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‘When I connect, then I’m home free’ - A conversation with Mandy Patinkin

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BAR HARBOR – An icon of stage and screen will soon be treating a local audience to a gamut-running concert extravaganza.

The legendary Mandy Patinkin is bringing his show “Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries” to the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor on November 3. The concert is set to start at 3 p.m.; tickets are available at the Criterion’s box office or by visiting their website at www.criteriontheatre.org.

Patinkin will be accompanied by Adam Ben-David on piano. The show will include a wealth of songs pulled from his ongoing musical project “Diaries,” recorded as a sort of digital diary over the course of many months. His new album “Children and Art” – featuring some of the songs from these sessions – was released by Nonesuch Records on Oct. 25; it is Patinkin’s first album in over 15 years.

Few performers have achieved the kind of varied success that Patinkin has over the years. You might know him from his eight years as Saul Berenson on the Showtime series “Homeland” or his well-regarded stints on shows like “Chicago Hope” (for which he won an Emmy). Or maybe you know him from his time on the Broadway stage, winning acclaim for his work in musicals such as “Evita.”

And of course: he was Inigo Montoya, the swashbuckling Spaniard from the beloved film classic “The Princess Bride.”

(Editor’s note: Real talk, don’t sleep on 1988’s “Alien Nation” – he’s legitimately fantastic in that.)

In the following conversation, Patinkin offers a glimpse into his process. He talks about how “Diaries” came about and what led him to want to tour, as well as some insight as to how much music means to him and his well-being. And don’t worry – there’s a little “Princess Bride” talk in there as well.

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TME: First of all – how’s your day? How are things going?

Mandy Patinkin: Things are good, I'm happy. Just had a fun rehearsal with my piano player and that went well, and I can't wait to hit the road and get going with the tour. I’m really excited.

TME: Fantastic. One of the first things I wanted to ask you about: I'm curious as to what the beginnings were for the “Diary” project? How did those sessions come about? And how did you decide which songs you wanted to work on? What was the process like?

MP: Well, I'll back it up a little bit.

I’d been working with a piano player Paul Ford for thirty-some years. And then he retired. At the same time, the “Homeland” shooting schedule got pretty intense and so I couldn’t really handle both touring and filming at the same time – it just had to be one or the other, so I focused on “Homeland.”

And then two or three years went by where I wasn’t singing, and I felt like I wasn't alive. Like I was missing some kind of food, you know? My very dear friend Bob Hurwitz – who also started Nonesuch Records – suggested that I meet a gentleman by the name of Thomas Bartlett, a very gifted young man; he’s a piano player, an engineer, a producer and just … just a f---in' genius, basically?

So I meet Thomas and we have a conversation. And remember, pretty much all I’d been doing up to that point is showtunes; I’d done some other stuff – Paul Simon, Randy Newman – some other things, but mainly showtunes. And Thomas didn’t know a single showtune, he wasn't familiar with a single showtune. He’d been working with some singer-songwriters – some very notable ones, some new and up-and-coming ones; they all seek him out because he's the guy they all want. 

And so he sends me, on Christmas Eve of 2017, 300 songs to listen to. I'm a good Jew on Christmas – I either go to a movie or I do nothing. And so I stayed home, I locked myself in a room for two days and listened to all 300. I chose about 28 of the 300. Then we meet again and we start working on them. 

And I said ‘Listen, I want to do one thing. I want to push the record button and I want to create a journal, a diary, an audio journal diary; I don't want it to be about perfection, I want it to be about working on this one, working on that one.’ And we’ll put it out – as soon as we have 10 or 11 songs that we’ve learned and we’re working on, if we have them recorded decently, then we'll put them out in a diary, an online digital diary. 

So I'm the only person at Nonesuch, I think, that’s done this. And so we released them. And sometimes, people didn’t even really notice; it’s like a tree in the forest, you know, because that's not how people get stuff. They get it when a proper CD comes out, when you're out on tour, when you’re doing press, etc. This was really just a quiet little activity. Private, almost. So the first “Diary,” we put out on January 27, 2018. The second one was April/May 2018 and the third one was December 2018. 

Then I had to go film “Homeland.” That was supposed to be for seven months, but it went long – nine months. I was going to have two months before starting the tour, but by the time I finished filming, I was basically going to have two weeks.

But I'm in good shape. We tried it out in November in New York and in Australia - at the Sydney Opera House, the Brisbane Opera House, the Melbourne Opera House – in Hawaii and San Francisco. I made some adjustments from that trial. And then I whenever I had free time for the nine months while IO was filming “Homeland,” I would take a walk by myself and run the concert and practice. And whenever we had a moment when we could get together, we’d come together and practice. I just had a great rehearsal today. I'm just so excited; I wish we had a concert tonight. We're ready to go. 

So we have this material. Nonesuch wanted to put out a new record which, I hadn't released a new record for 17 years – I sort of stopped doing that. But the new CD comes out October 25 and the tour starts October 30 and goes through February 16. I think it’s 30 concerts in 30 cities, give or take one.  I can't wait.

TME: You talked about going through all the songs. What are some of the aspects of a song that capture your attention and make it something that you feel a little bit more strongly about performing it rather than something else? 

MP: That aspect has been consistent in terms of what I choose from the beginning. I listen to 300 songs, I choose 28. Out of the 28, I may end up with 15 on the first pass. Then we start getting to know each other, he starts seeing what speaks to me and he starts giving me five more, 10 more – he knows so much stuff. So what speaks to me is how I choose, and what speaks to me is what's going on in my life and my world, in my home with my family and with my friends. The world at large, my experiences in the world. And when I hear a song that reflects on the present, the moment that I'm living in. Or a wish that I might have had and not yet attained; I always felt like a great songwriter oftentimes writes down what they wish for themselves or the world at large. They're also trying to make that wish come true. 

So I look for things that speak to me, that I need to hear, that I need to be reminded of. Things that comfort me, that make me feel good. Things that make me remember things, that make me revisit things or ideas or people. Things that just make my life feel better, that make me feel alive in them. When I hear a song and connect – and that’s the key word, “connect,” has been my whole life – when I connect, then I’m home free.

TME: As far as the tour is concerned, have you pretty much locked in a set list or is it something that's more flexible?

MP: I have locked in a set list for this particular concert. I've worked hard on that; it has found its way very organically in a way that I'm very comfortable with. That being said, I also have a whole other list which I go over and rehearse that I refer to as “pocket songs.” These are other tunes that I didn't plan for this particular list, but if I’m moved for any reason to sing one of them for any reason at all, I will.

TME: So you've got that sort of flexibility. On the night, if you're feeling something you can just you can just whip it out. 

MP: Absolutely, if it's something that strikes me. But I REALLY like this list. Through the rehearsal process, I am never longing for something else, because the variety and the eclecticness and the quality of the different songs, lyrics, music are so fulfilling to me and meaningful. I just feel like each one’s a meal and I'm not wanting for something that somebody didn't put out the table. 

TME: Any chance you'd be willing to give us a couple of hints as to what people might be able to expect to hear? 

MP: Well, I usually don’t like to, because I don't want to disappoint folks, but I will because, well … why not?

I’ll be doing a song I wrote, a new song that I wrote that’s on the album. And then there's a different song that I also wrote that I put the concert, but it’s not the one on the album. That song – the one in the concert – is called “Buckingham.” 

Let me see, what else will I tell you? Hm. Won’t tell you any more songs, but how about some of the songwriters? Randy Newman. Queen. Laurie Anderson. Rufus Wainwright. Rodgers & Hammerstein. Harry Chapin. Stephen Sondheim. Nillson. Tom Waits. Lyle Lovett. That’s just some of them.

TME: Sounds like you’re really running the gamut there.

MP: It really is the most unusual combination I’ve ever done publicly in my life.

TME: You mentioned the departure from filming and moving right into the tour. How are you finding balancing preparation for this tour with your other endeavors? 

MP: Well, my other endeavors are twofold – one I continue and the other one that came to a conclusion.

The one that came to conclusion would be the end of filming of the final season of “Homeland,” the television series that I do for Showtime. We just finished the eighth and final season; that’s now over for us. It will air in February of 2020 and 12 weeks later, we’ll be part of TV history.

The other ongoing effort that I have is a very very deeply meaningful part of my life and it is my great privilege to be able to do it. I’m involved with the International Rescue Committee; we’re trying to bring attention and awareness to the refugee crisis. The refugee crisis is growing exponentially every day, involving conflict and climate change. It’s not going away in our lifetime.

What’s such a tragedy is how governments - like our current government – have taken the quota of refugees down to the lowest ever in the history of the United States since we began the refugee effort by Albert Einstein with the International Rescue Committee. Those are the people that I work with.

It’s shameful. And unfortunately, it’s a global crisis as other nations take their cue from our leadership and our moral ethical leadership is at fault right now, in no uncertain terms, and failing at caring for our fellow human beings. 

My Grandpa Max used to say in Yiddish “Dos redele dreyt zikh,” which means “The wheel is always turning.” Basically, it means that if you’re on top, one day you'll be on the bottom, so if someone should come knocking on your door asking for help, you should give it to them.

So that’s one ongoing effort. The other effort that I will partake in it is my music, which I love. When I chose to do it, I thought I was going to have two months to prepare, but I'm fine. I’ve been rehearsing since the moment I got back and I was working hard when I was away. I had a wonderful rehearsal this morning and I have to say, I’m ready to this right now. I could open tonight. I’m happy. I can't wait. 

And I'm glad I chose to do this now, so that it eases my transition of leaving a part like on “Homeland,” which I’ve been doing for eight years. That’s a long time to be immersed in a collaborative effort. But now, this tour means I don’t have time to … mourn? Or be in shock. Because I put something right in front of me.

You know, Hal Prince used to say that after every opening night, the next morning at 10 a.m., he had a meeting for his next project. No matter what the reviews were, whether they were s—t or great.

TME: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you. I’m sure you’ve been asked a million times already about the big kerfuffle from last month that maybe someone was considering remaking “The Princess Bride.” Do you have any thoughts on that?

MP: I have no thoughts. Look, I had a wonderful time doing it, it is absolutely one of the highlights of my life and one of the great joys of my life. Whenever anybody comes up and mentions it to me, I kind of have to pinch myself. It’s like “Oh my god. They're talking about me and I actually got to be in that. I can't believe it.” It was a great joy of my life. 

You know, there’s stuff going on all the time with people about everything in the world. But it’s really none of my business. It was my business back in 1986 or ’87, when we made it, then it was my business. Now, not so much.

TME: Well sir, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking to you. Thank you so much for taking the time. And I look forward to the show.

MP: Thank you for this. It’s going to be a great time; I’m really proud of this show and I think people are going to enjoy it.

(“Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries” with Adam Ben-David on piano will take place at Bar Harbor’s Criterion Theatre on November 3 at 3 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit the Criterion’s website at www.criteriontheatre.org or contact the box office at (207)288-0829.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 29 October 2019 16:39

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