Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
November 11, 2018
He’s best known for that legendary line in 1987 film The Princess Bride: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Or more recently for his Emmy Award winning role in TV’s Homeland. Between this mainstream fame, however, Mandy Patinkin has trod the boards to great acclaim, particularly with musical theatre and touring concerts, including this show fresh from New York. There are no toe-tappers, and many of the often bittersweet songs are obscure, but this masterful actor-singer has such presence and passion that the audience was gripped throughout.
The vast Hamer Hall, almost at capacity, was transformed into an intimate space by Patinkin’s easygoing-meets-tender performance. Dressed casually in black, he was moodily lit from above, and by a dramatic naked bulb on a stand behind him. There was nothing else on the stage but a bentwood chair, and a grand piano played by Adam Ben-David, whose accompaniment was sensitive to both humour and pathos.
Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries 2018. Photo © Darrell Hoemann
Patinkin began with the madcap Ya Got Trouble from 1957 musical The Music Man, instantly impressing with theatrical, rapid-fire lyrics, and getting the audience on side with a little participation. He was slightly out of breath by the end – and not for the last time in this 100-minute (no interval) program that revealed a performer of extraordinary stamina and skill.
Other demanding wonders included Bohemian Rhapsody, for which he sang all the parts, revealing his remarkable range that spans tenor to baritone and even jumps into falsetto and bass. Somehow he still had breath to hold a long note near the end, which had the audience caught between wanting to hear and cheer. His voice is a little rough these days, but it matters little when a performer has such capacity for expression through nuanced dynamics and phrasing. He is an actor’s singer, turning ballads like Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle and Taxi into moments of theatre, just with his voice and a few restrained gestures.
There was plenty of (generally less celebrated) Stephen Sondheim and Randy Newman, including the latter’s A Few Words in Defense of Our Country. This gently satirical song immediately had the audience chuckling. Patinkin was so amused by the response that he had to pause a moment – all part of the show’s genuine, of-the-moment warmth, built up by the honesty with which he delivered each song.
He spoke little between numbers, though this intimate mood was enhanced by two extended anecdotes, including Patinkin’s revelation about a learning block that left him simply unable to learn new songs a few years ago. He sat on the edge of the stage for a couple of songs, and frequently dabbed his face with a black towel. There was no razzmatazz, just a man, sharing some songs that have special meaning for him.
He discovered many of them only recently, such as Rufus Wainwright’s Going to a Town, for which, as Patinkin explained, he received permission to change a key lyric – from ‘America’ to ‘Jerusalem’. Slow, melancholy and personally political, it’s typical of this program for which the New Yorker wears his heart on his sleeve. This is most apparent in one of two encore numbers, accompanied by black-and-white footage of mid-20th century Jewish migrants and modern-day refugees at sea.