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Mandy Patinkin: My Life is All About Connecting

Above photo by J Altman Beard ~ 

Mandy Patinkin may be the most famous person you’ll meet who doesn’t think of himself as a celebrity.

Sure, he’s a wildly successful and acclaimed Broadway, television and recording artist with Tony and Emmy awards who’ll be forever enshrined in film as Avigdor in Yentl and Inigo Montoya – “You killed my father. Prepare to die.”— from The Princess Bride.

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The Princess Bride

But when he calls from Los Angeles to talk about his new 30-city concert that he’s bringing to the Eisemann Center in Richardson on Jan. 17, it’s clear he sees not himself, but the art he delivers as his offering.

“I’m just the mailman for great geniuses,” he says of the songwriters featured in Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries. “They have the gift of poetry, of knowing how to find those musical tones that match our heartbeat, they had the gift of writing down what they wished for themselves and the world at large. They left those wishes behind like beautiful prayers.”

Patinkin’s conversation flows with bursts of humor – mostly at his expense, with wonder and an eagerness to connect and please. In fact, if you really want to torture him, ask what will happen in the eighth and final season of “Homeland”, airing in February, where he plays CIA man Sol Berenson, the rock to the craziness of Carrie, the brilliant officer played by Claire Danes.

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Patinkin in “Homeland”; photo by Kent Smith/ SHOWTIME

Long pause.

He’s promised not to spill the secrets and the pain of not being able to give you what you’re asking for is palpable.

His relief pours through the phone when you tell him you were joking, that you wouldn’t want him to spill even if he could.

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The concert is deeply personal. Patinkin, 66, has been singing all his life, starting when he was a boy at synagogue in his native Chicago. But for the last few years he hadn’t had opportunities to sing in public. His piano player had retired and he was too busy filming Homeland to go out on the road.

“I was missing the music terribly,” he says.

Then he met music director Thomas Bartlett, who encouraged him to make a diary of the music on his mind. The results are his three Diary January 2018, Diary April/May 2018 and Diary December 2018 albums from Nonesuch Records and now this tour which features an eclectic mix of Stephen Sondheim, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Harry Chapin and Patinkin himself, who wrote some of the songs.

It’s a mix of Broadway show tunes, popular songs, lesser known numbers and “Song of the Titanic” which evokes his feelings about the work he does to help refugees. Pianist Adam Ben-David accompanies him.

“I pick what I need to hear,” Patinkin says. “I sing what I’m missing to make my life complete, both lyrically and musically. The music makes me feel alive.”

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The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville, Patinkin and Taylor Mac; photo by Joan Marcus

Patinkin keeps returning to the Eisemann Center in Richardson for his tours because of the relationships he’s built there. It’s a place where he can try new things like his 2015 show he premiered there with Taylor Mac called The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville.

Bruce C. MacPherson, managing director of the Eisemann Center recalls reaching out to Patinkin in 2002, with the idea of having Patinkin and Patti LuPone, who had co-starred and won Tony Awards for Evita in 1980, to perform a concert that would celebrate the opening of the Eisemann Center that year.

“However, it became far more than that simple format we proposed as Mandy felt something more needed to be done to make their show truly special,” MacPherson writes in an email.

“He took the lead in making this happen and we benefited greatly when they premiered An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin at our opening. As a result of being reunited on our stage they continued to perform this show regularly, when schedules would permit, on tours across the country, ultimately leading up to a limited run on Broadway in 2011.”

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Patinkin and Patti LuPone, Eisemann Center; photo by Joan Marcus

Patinkin looks forward to his stop at the Eisemann.

“I feel welcome here with dear friends of mine and the audiences.”

It’s been a place where he can take risks and try new things, he says. He feels people are alert and open to the messages he’s compelled to share.

“If you listen carefully to the diary series, if you listen to what I’ve chosen to sing, you’ll find someone who believes in the world, who looks at what he wishes to celebrate about life, what makes life worth living for yourself and your fellow human being.  These songs are who I am right now at this moment.”

While his incredible voice is, incredibly, still there after all these years, he hopes he’s building up the kind of relationships with audiences that will continue even after, one day, as he puts it, “the voice changes, gravity has its way.”

When that time comes, he says, “I don’t care, I’ll go out there with no voice at all and whisper my feelings to people if that’s all I have…My life is all about one word – connect. I was given that word by James Lapine in Sunday in the Park with George,” he says of the musical with book by Lapine and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim that earned Patinkin a Tony Award nomination in 1984.

“Connect. That’s all I’m trying to do. I wake up every day and I do the best I can.”

See Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 at 7:30pm.

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Patinkin working with International Rescue Committee, Lesbos Greece

Nancy Churnin

Nancy Churnin is the author of eight picture book biographies that have won the Sydney Taylor Notable, South Asia Book Award and Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People and been honored on numerous states reading lists. A native New Yorker and former theater critic for The Dallas Morning News, Nancy is a Harvard University alumna, with a master's from Columbia University. She lives in North Texas with her husband, a dog named Dog and a cantankerous cat. Nancy's books are available at our Grand Times Bookstore and independent bookstores. You can also follow her on Twitter @nchurnin.

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