Mandy Patinkin In Concert: Being Alive-Union County Performing Arts Center, Rahway, NJ

Mandy Patinkin In Concert: Being Alive

Review by: Rebecca Wolf

Sitting inside the Union County Performing Arts Center awaiting the start of the evening’s performance, I looked around the theater marveling again (my second time at UCPAC) at the beauty of this historical space. While I’ve attended performances at many venues across NJ, as well as neighboring states, this arts center stands out due to the elegance, sophistication, and grandeur that remains present from the theater’s past. Outside UCPAC an illuminated marquee beckons patrons to enter the venue to partake in the evening’s main event.  However, until you make your way through the lobby, ascend the ramp, and emerge into the majestic theater, with its stage framed by a magnificent arch, its grand ceiling medallion, its vintage box seats and its meticulously restored moldings, you’d never know the incredible beauty, soul, and nostalgia tucked within the venue walls.

I believe the beautiful physical and emotion-evoking qualities of this theater directly related to the performer that blessed the UCPAC stage on February 18th, the immeasurable Mandy Patinkin. Anyone who’s followed the 40+ year career of this award-winning theater, film, TV actor, and vocalist, can attest to the fact that the most beautiful, touching and fascinating aspects of Mr. Patinkin are what’s beyond the exterior, his inner beauty, sophistication, depth of soul, artistic diversity and musical nostalgia. There are people who possess incredible creativity and talent and are appreciated and admired for their skills. However, it’s the positivity of one’s character and one’s inner beauty that can positively elevate how an individual is perceived and exponentially magnify one’s artistry beyond a set of skills. This is Mandy Patinkin.

Patinkin’s over four decade career is phenomenal, not merely for its longevity but for its diversity. He has starred in classic Broadway musicals roles, on hit network and cable dramas, and in beloved films. However, throughout these years and ever-changing roles, the consistent source for Patinkin’s artistic expression has been his music and his incredible vocal abilities. After performing on several Broadway cast albums, Patinkin released his first solo album in 1989 and has released an additional seven records. As diverse as Patinkin’s acting career, there is equal diversity in his musical expression. Patinkin’s has an album of Stephen Sondheim covers and an album of songs sung in Yiddish. His albums have beautiful, heartfelt numbers about children and classic nursery rhymes/songs for children, as well as pieces by masters of the Great American Songbook. However, no matter what Patinkin sings, he makes it his own, with a uniquely powerful voice that can go from a rich baritone, to a warm tenor, to an airy falsetto. 

Coming off the pandemic, and being away from musical performances, Patinkin’s current tour “Being Alive” is a perfect celebratory name for both Patinkin and his adoring fans. On February 18th, Union County Performing Arts Center was packed with fans eager for Mandy Patinkin’s arrival. Accompanying Patinkin on piano since 2016 was Adam Ben-David, who garnered cheers from the crowd as he made his way to the baby-grand seconds before Patinkin’s grand entrance. However, the down-to-earth, “every man”  that Patinkin is, there was no “grand” entrance, just a man dressed in black jeans, a black shirt, carrying a hand towel and casually walking onstage with his broad, gracious smile.  Having spent the past couple of years watching the delightful social media videos of Patinkin and his wonderful wife Kathryn Grody (thanks to son Gideon) I expected to see Patinkin with the full gray and white beard I’d been accustomed to seeing. Instead I was shocked to see a clean-shaven face and neatly trimmed hair, which harkened back to Mandy Patinkin of years gone by.

From the moment Patinkin appeared onstage, thunderous applause rang out throughout the theater, only silencing with Patinkin’s first notes of “Schooldays Medley: Inchworm/ School Days (When we were a couple of kids)/Time in a Bottle.” As the medley came to an end there was no time for applause, as Patinkin glided into his rendition of “A Tisket a Tasket.”  It’s a wonder that when Patinkin sings even nursery classics sound elegant and sophisticated. He infuses depth and meaning into everything, with each word articulate and clear. Every song is treated with loving care.  The audience’s adoration for Patinkin was readily apparent, as a fan in the crowd shouted, “I love you Mandy,” to which Patinkin responded, “Thanks mom,” bringing ripples of laughter throughout the crowd. 

Patinkin easily flowed from one song to the next, whether it was Stephen Sondheim’s, “Being Alive,” Randy Newman’s, “Wandering Boy” and “Dayton Ohio, 1903,” or Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which elicited thunderous applause from the crowd. Patinkin performed Irving Berlin classics, “White Christmas” and “God Bless America,” both in Yiddish, from his 1998 album Mamaloshen, as well as Kermit’s beloved “Bein’ Green” (It’s Not Easy Being Green) by Joe Raposo. The diversity of musical selections matched the many facets of Mandy Patinkin. Using various small props during the performance, including a cigar, Patinkin laughingly grumbled, “I love getting this shit in my mouth,” as he wiped tobacco away at the end of the song. “You people who smoke cigars…..go ahead and kill yourselves with them. They wanted me to do the cover of Cigar Aficionado when I was doing Homeland and I told them to go F… themselves!” His adoring fans laughed and cheered in unison. Switching from cigars to quarters, Patinkin explained the significance in the Jewish religion of the 18 quarters in his hands (the meaning of Chai) and began shaking the quarters while singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” in Yiddish.  Transitioning to the “Hokey Pokey,” Patinkin asked all in attendance to stand, and with the house lights raised, directed the crowd to “turn yourself about” as he sang each verse. 

The beautiful, iconic song, “Cat’s In The Cradle,” written by Harry and Sandra Chapin (the latter of whom was present that evening at UCPAC) is a tale of a father and son trying to connect. What better song and moment for Patinkin’s son Gideon to join him on stage and for the two to perform together. For those who’ve been watching Gideon’s Mandy and Kathryn videos, who’ve been awaiting an opportunity to see the face behind the camera, seeing Gideon was a treat. The love and connection between father and son was palpable, even as they sang about the disconnect between the song’s father and son. Gideon remained onstage as the two performed “Ya Got Trouble” from Music Man and Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat.” It’s not surprising that Gideon wasn’t only a fabulous singer but a wonderfully humorous, theatrical performer. If having one additional member of the Patinkin family onstage wasn’t enough, the crowd was ecstatic when Patinkin called wife Kathryn up for the three to sing and record a little ditty about a lost alligator for Mandy and Kathryn’s grandson Jude. Speaking for myself, as an avid viewer of their video clips, but I’m sure for others,  seeing Mandy and Kathryn together was heartwarming.

Patinkin ended this incredible performance with his beautiful rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” sung in both Yiddish and English, a perfect combination of the musical and cultural sides of Patinkin. I’d venture to say, Mandy Patinkin is one of the most diverse individuals in the artistic community, from his work in theater, film, TV, and music. However, it’s beyond talent and skills, it’s Mandy Patinkin’s inner beauty, sophistication, and depth of soul that exponentially magnify his artistry and make him the incredible artist and performer he is.