Colonial Cabaret Opens With Mandy Patinkin

A Sensational Start to a New Series

By: - Jun 14, 2009

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Mandy Patinkin: Dress Casual with Paul Ford on piano. Musical Director Paul Ford, Production Director/Lighting Design Eric Cornwell, Sound Design Daniel Gerhard, Associate Production Director, Gayle Jeffery, Stage Manager/Lighting Supervisors - Judith M. Daitsman, Matthew Aaron Stern, Peter Wolf. Colonial Production Staff: Producton Manager Chrissie Constable, Technical Director, Jospeh C. Hannon, Show Audio Supervisor Bruce Clapper, Light Board Oerator Nathaniel Wiessner, Spotlight Operator Jason Goldman.  At the Colonial Theatre, 111 South Street, Pittsfield. 2 Hours. No Intermission.

In more than fifty years of attending live performances, I have never experienced the total command of an audience that Mandy Patinkin exercised at the Colonial Theatre last night.  Maybe it is because he has been doing Dress Casual for more than twenty years, and has had time to polish it to perfection. Whatever his secret, this is a consummate showman who gives his total being, heart and soul, to a performance.

The first of four Cabaret events at the Colonial, he packed the house. Executive Director David Fleming was in the lobby, smiling from ear to ear, as the excited crowd surged towards the ticket takers to take their seats. "We've firing all the guns this year with the huge number of attractions we've scheduled, and while the stakes are high and it is a bit scary, it's great to see a response like this,"   It's a great kickoff to their cabaret series, a validation that some good choices were made for this group of sophisticated concerts.  They take place roughly a month apart. Next will be two-time Tony Award winner James Naughton on July 13, Steve Ross presents his show Live at the Algonquin on August 4, and velvet throated Andrea Marcovicci explores the memorable songs of 1939 to 1945 in a program called I'll be Seeing You - Love Songs of World War II on August 17.

Patinkin's Dress Casual program is the first of three possible programs that the Colonial can offer in future years, The artist is also well known for his all-Sondheim program. Then there is  Mamaloshen, a collection of traditional, classic and contemporary songs sung entirely in Yiddish. Even though it is not their mother tongue, many in the Berkshires would go in a heartbeat. His singing transcends language.

Dress Casual is very informal, and sung without an intermission. The stage is bare, just a ladder, a ghost light and some odds and ends strewn about, plus a piano of course.  Patinkin created the original concept twenty years ago. While some of the core songs remain unchanged, Patinkin has constantly re-threaded the medleys into new tapestries of song, blending the old with the new, the familiar with the exotic, and the melancholy with the joyous. Last night he opened with the little known Buddy's Blues and before long we were listening to the Red, Red, Robin, Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along.  Fixing his gaze on one audience member or another, he talked to us, cajoled us, and made jokes. The audience was easily recruited to clap and sing along at several points as well, and everyone seemed to enjoy being part of his act.

When Patinkin sings a song, the melody is just part of what comes from him. He throws his whole being into every lyric. You feel his passion.  His intensity is the stuff of satire, too. Forbidden Broadway  once took his classic rendition of Over the Rainbow and did their own ironic version, "Somewhat Over Indulgent."   And somewhat controversial, too. Four out of five people on Amazon give his recordings high marks, but 1 in 5 can't tolerate his passionate style. Let 'em watch Lawrence Welk.

Singing an old Harry Chapin favorite, Taxi, we find this classic infused with new meaning and emotion that brings the audience close to tears.  (Harry Chapin's brothers Tom and Steve will be at the Colonial August 1 along with some of the original band members) When he launches into a medley from the Stephen Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George, we return to his legendary Broadway voice that can be as loud as a basso profundo and as delicate as gossamer silk. His high tenor is genuine, and never sounds like a falsetto, while his deepest notes can shake the apples off a tree.

A bona fide Broadway phenomenon,he earned his first Tony in the role of Che in Evita. He starred next to Patti LuPone who also won a Tony and the two have continued to sing together whenever possible. Many people do not know of his theatrical background remembering him as Dr. Jeffery Geiger in "Chicago Hope" on TV, or more recently on "Criminal Minds." Still others remember him as the swashbuckling and hilarious Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride.

It was amazing to watch him turn himself inside out for the audience. He made a point to stay at least five feet from the edge of the stage so as not to drench his audience with the by-products of his heartfelt singing.  During one particularly fortissimo passage, he lost his contact lens and ended up locating it on the floor and calling for someone to bring his sterile solution. All of this took place as naturally as if  you were having a cup of coffee at his house, calmly taking care of the problem while hardly missing a beat.

Patinkin was superbly accompanied by Paul Ford. The pianist has been with him since the beginning and we got a chance to hear him sing, too. Ford joined the star for the song "Rock Island" (But you've got to know the territory) from The Music Man.  Less a song and more a staccato, scored recitation of rhythmic prose, it was a delightful treat to hear the unusual novelty piece again. Only Patinkin updated it and made it about Bernie Madoff. The audience went crazy.

Of course all good evenings have to come to an end, and with a group of songs celebrating the joys of "Being Alive" (Company) the final ovations were given, the performers beamed, and the two hours spent with a master musician and actor were forever sealed into memory. What a night. What a phenomenon. What a great artist. Cabaret is more than song, it is a celebration of the lyrics and the passion behind the music.

Thanks for this series, Colonial. We'll be back for more.