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'Mandy Patinkin – Live in Concert' review – a beguiling mix of poignancy and madcap comedy from this supreme performer

Read our four-star review of Mandy Patinkin – Live in Concert, now in performances at the Lyric Theatre to 19 November.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

We’ve got an unofficial Sondheim reunion in the West End. Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, the original stars of Sunday in the Park with George, are performing side by side (by side): the latter in the incredible revue Old Friends, while Patinkin has brought his acclaimed solo concert to the Lyric Theatre.

While many may know Patinkin from his screen work, whether Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride or Saul Berenson in Homeland, he also has an important place in musical theatre history. As well as originating that Sondheim role, he was the first Che in Evita on Broadway.

But he’s rarely appeared in London, so watching the 70-year-old Patinkin perform here is a special privilege. In fact, he has a personal connection with the city: as he relays in one of several free-wheeling anecdotes, his son Isaac was born here – in the same week as some guy called Prince William.

There are more royal quips. Why, he muses, must the royals use cannons to announce their arrival (this in relation to the King’s Speech)? How about a spot of Mozart instead? Or the Beatles?

It’s all part and parcel of a charmingly chaotic event, which also featured, on the night I saw it, Patinkin handling latecomers like a bullish stand-up comic. “Where were you?” he demanded, and then “Work? Bullshit!”.

Patinkin shares other stories too, including one involving a party, Angela Lansbury and the late Sondheim. His enduring affection for the composer is palpable and deeply moving. That party anecdote introduces a gorgeous “Anyone Can Whistle” – wry, sincere, rich with experience.

But the big surprise is the sheer range of Patinkin’s repertoire. Most of his choices are unexpected, some downright eccentric. His opening Schooldays Medley melds Frank Loesser and Jim Croce, then leaps into a dramatised version of “A Tisket A Tasket”, with Patinkin switching between a tearful little girl and a jaded cop yelling through a foghorn.

He creates a madcap medley out of movie-related songs like Franz Waxman’s “Paramount Blues”, at one point pretending to painstakingly tune a ukulele. Later he mimes riding a horse on a boat, and does a whole Charlie Chaplin-esque skit.

His big showstopper is a gloriously histrionic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, with Patinkin variously closing his eyes, jumping up and down, and finishing arms held aloft as though he’s just scored a winning goal. Which, in a way, he has.

That vaudevillian exuberance is balanced by multiple numbers with a wistful core: nostalgic trips down memory lane, or a lament for people we’ve lost. Randy Newman’s “Wandering Boy” is almost unbearably poignant, as is Marc Anthony Thompson’s “My Mom”.

The last run of songs is simply knockout: Billy’s “Soliloquy” from Carousel, a whole life in one number; the Company double-whammy of “Sorry-Grateful” and “Being Alive”; and, striking with powerful force in the current climate, “Carefully Taught”, “Children Will Listen”, and finally “Over the Rainbow” sung in Yiddish.

Throughout, Patinkin is accompanied by the extraordinary pianist Adam Ben-David – although the potency of their collaboration is such that it’s more like a duet. I’ve rarely heard such sensitive and comprehensive accompaniment.

Patinkin himself is a beguiling mix of skilful and silly, a supreme performer and a shambolic one. His voice is like a lightning bolt, utterly thrilling, but in between numbers he pants, pats himself down with a towel, and complains that he can’t read his set list without his glasses.

Wisdom emerges from the chaos, like the advice he still recalls from a drama teacher: “If you love someone, tell them.” I have no hesitation in declaring my love for Patinkin, and for this weird but wonderful gem of a show.

Mandy Patinkin – Live in Concert is at the Lyric Theatre through 19 November. Book Mandy Patinkin – Live in Concert tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Mandy Patinkin – Live in Concert (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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