That voice, that intensity, the musicals, the comedies, the TV dramas, the co-stars from Patti LuPone to Barbra Streisand to Bernadette Peters. That’s Mandy Patinkin, here in the PNW for concerts in Edmonds and Tacoma this week (Edmonds had virtually sold out weeks ago. He mesmerized me as Che Guevara in Evita pre-Broadway in 1979 (Patti did as well but that’s another interview I did recently). It was a privilege to speak with him recently on his career and his show An Evening with Mandy Patinkin: Dress Casual.
Dress Casual is an album I still listen to after all these years. But I imagine you have varied the tune list since then?
I gotta tell you I don’t even remember what’s on the “Dress Casual” album it’s been so long. So we use that as the subtitle. I may or may not do numbers from that album, so I don’t want to set you and my audience for disappointment. I change my mind all the time, even during the concert so if I don’t sing “Happy Birthday I don’t want to let anyone down.
Of course. When Patti LuPone did her show here, and she said exactly the same. Regardless you have a huge songbook to pull from, and I can’t wait to hear what you pull out for us. You give the audience more than what they reckoned.
Thank you, thank you. I love doing this. And there will be NO discussion of primaries, elections or any of that. We need to give you a break from all that. So for the 90 minutes or so, while the concert is going on, I can get away from it all, invite the audience to get away from it all, and just have a good time with the songs written by these geniuses of our time , that I get to be the Mail man for. It’s a comfort to me because I love what these words have to say. They talk to us on so many levels-How to have a good time, how to get through life, make the most of out of the day, how to be silly, have to be serious, how to have fun. It’s a comfort to me to get to hear these songs too, I mean I’m not the genius who wrote them, but as I said I am the Mail man. And when I say it’s a comfort, it’s a comfort that others want to listen to these songs too. I often say that I think they wrote down what they wanted to hear themselves, what they struggled with in their own journeys. What they wanted for themselves and the world. These are songs that make you want to hear them over and over again and we should want to hear them again.
So true. I want to mention an early show you were part of that seems more topical than ever today, what with all the transgender awareness and support for that community. It was called The Knife, and in it you played pre and post op MTF trans person with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio written as an-all sung piece by noted playwright David Hare, lyricist Tim Rose Price, and composer Nick Bicat. Way ahead of its time. What was it like doing it at that time?
One of my favorite experiences I ever had, and one of the most eye-opening experience about trusting ourselves. We did it first in a workshop, Joe Papp produced it. When I played the Man, the father of the family, I just wore Gym shoes, black jeans and a T-shirt. When I became the woman I just changed into high heels, same everything else, because that’s the more androgynous nature we all hold within. The show was really about the metaphor for change. And how change affects each one of us mentally and physically and touches everyone around us. What could be a more monumental change than to change one’s physical sexual orientation. It’s one thing if you’re dealing with it on an emotional or a mental level, but the to go to where you change the physicality of your anatomy. That is for most people quite a big step. And so I felt that the piece, it was of course a literal story about a real thing that happens in the world, but I also felt the story reflected the changes that all we deal with in all of our lives, and how we all deal with the changes, and what do we do when it’s when it’s exposed around us.
Unfortunately when we went to Broadway, collectively as a group of people who put on a show, we made a mistake, and we literalized it all from what we did in the workshop. We had a brilliant makeup man to do the makeup job on me, and there I was across from Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in matching blue ball gowns facing each other on an amazing set that Santo Loquasto did, with a reflecting pool. And it became a sort of “Mommy Dearest” of musicals from when we did the workshop and it tore up the subtlety of the metaphor from when it was this much simpler, less literal, more metaphorical production. It was an amazing lesson for me. We opened the show and it just died. It had this terrible reception. And I went to Joe after we opened, and I said is there any way we can we just throw out all the sets and the costumes, and just go back to what we did in the workshop., said “The business just doesn’t work that way. We spent $750,000, and the critics have reviewed it, and they’re not going to come again. And Joe, he was like my Dad. But I still feel that what I said then, throw everything out and go back to simpler, and I still feel that today. The metaphor for change HAD to be there. The simpler you can make something allows the viewer to make their own experience. There was no way in 15 minutes to get me to look like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, but you can do it emotionally if you don’t try to the whole physical thing. I remember very well emotionally transforming from the man who was very closed off and unemotional, to the woman who was so much warmer, and more emotionally available. I’d love to do it again, maybe in a concert, basically as we did the workshop, because it is so much more powerful.
Shifting over to your major Hollywood debut as Avigdor opposite Barbra Streisand in Yentl, were there ever any talks about you having a song or songs in the film? Having seen you in Evita I felt ripped off!
No never. She had conceived it and designed it with the songs being the inner thoughts of her character only. I had a very close friend who said to me at the time “So, what? Your character doesn’t think? “ Believe me as someone who would have LOVED to sing with Barbra, I was a little sad, and am to this day, but that’s the way the Cookie crumbles and that’s how it was designed.
Maybe you can have a reunion on film to be Herbie to her Rose in her new Gypsy film?
Oh, is she doing that? Is she directing herself? Well regardless, good for her! I hope she has a great experience with that.
Sunday in the Park with George, you and Bernadette Peters together is a singular theatrical memory for many of us. You and Bernadette singing Move On and especially brilliance holding hands with brilliance, your rendition of Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat.
Well, I thank God for Stephen Sondheim, I don’t know who I’d be without him. He writes everything I would write if I could write, I think it is the gift of my life to have been working with him. He is the Shakespeare of our time who happens to be living in our time. I am one of the lucky ones who gets to be part of the company of people that he works with. It is truly one of the great privileges of my life, if I did not have his material to sing I don’t know that I would ever have done this. Because of what he writes, and has to sing, and the way he puts thoughts together and how they mirror my own needs and desires to express my wishes. It made me feel that I wanted to SING, and to sing what he wrote. He is very much to me about turning darkness into light, that is what my life is about, as I believe Shakespeare’s life was about. I think it’s what a lot of our lives are about. He is a fucking genius. I’m proud that I get to work with, to know him, and we are all the luckiest people in the world in that we get to hear his artistry in the words and music he has written, and it will live on forever. He’s a great, great gift to this world!
Outside of the musical word you have done are best known perhaps for your SO many long running roles in TV series, like Chicago Hope, Dead Like Me, Criminal Minds, and Homeland. Your Emmy Winning role as Dr. Jeffrey Geiger on the show, which ran a healthy 6 seasons was my favorite.
I loved working with David Kelley! He and I would have these great discussions on life and family, and the he would ossify these discussions into thoughts and ideas for the shows, and he would write wonderful stories about Dr. Geiger, and the madness in him . He was a great surgeon with his greatest downfall being his issues with humanity. He just wrote one of the great characters for me to ever play.and I love hims very dearly. It was a wonderful time in my life to work with him.
All of your series have been ensemble dramas. Never wanted to have a little half hour sitcom called The Mandy Patinkin Show?
I would run like hell from The Mandy Patinkin Show, (A) because I don’t want to be by myself and (B) because even being part of a great ensemble on a wonderful TV show the hours are grueling, it’s almost inhuman. When I’m working here at home either I’m out with Claire Danes on Homeland but I get to be the older guy who doesn’t have to work as hard. My hats off to her, my God the hours she has to work!
Patti LuPone was thrilled to know you’d be coming her just weeks after she did. Will you two bring your duo show here sometime?
She is my dear friend. I love doing that show with her. I have to keep myself from giggling at her. I get so excited! Between our schedules, I would love to bring that here, David.
Our audiences in Edmonds and Tacoma are excited to see you!
Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Dress Casual plays Wednesday June 22 at 7:30PM at Edmonds Center for the Arts (410 4th Ave N, Edmonds) and June 24 at 7:30PM at The Pantages in the Broadway Center, Tacoma, WA.