Broadway, film, and television star Mandy Patinkin heads west this week when he brings his “Dress Casual” concert to Oklahoma City on June 18 as a benefit for Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre. Donald Jordan, CityRep‘s artistic director, says he’s tried to book Patinkin for several years. “When we learned he could come this June, we leaped at the chance to host him,” said Jordan. Concert selections will include tunes by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Harry Chapin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. Adam Ben-David accompanies on piano.
How did you get started as a performer?
I hated school, found it boring. I had started singing in my synagogue boys’ choir at age 7. My mother suggested I join the after-school drama program at our Chicago Jewish Youth Center as something she thought I might like. I told her it definitely wasn’t for me… Then one day a football player classmate told me they really needed some guys in the shows there, so I decided to go check it out. What I found was my life’s calling, directed by a man named Bob Condor who ran the after school drama program. My first show was Anything Goes. Next I played Billy Bigelow in Carousel. I was 15 and had to paste sideburns on, as I couldn’t grow facial hair. I was hooked. Then I went on to University of Kansas and the Juilliard School of Drama.
When was the last opportunity Texas/Oklahoma audiences had to see you perform live?
I performed the world premiere of my touring show with Taylor Mac, The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville in February 2015 at the Eisemann Center in Richardson, a Dallas suburb.
That was a fascinating production with an eclectic mix of songs. How did it get created, and why did you perform at the Eisemann Center, not at a Dallas Arts District venue?
When I was cast as Prospero in Classic Stage Company’s The Tempest in 2014 in NYC, the company brought in respected scholar/writer/director and founding director of the TEAM Rachel Chavkin to help me understand the nuances of performing Shakespeare. She introduced me to a unique performance artist, Taylor Mac, and we worked together on a benefit for TEAM. As different as we are as performers, with very different backgrounds, we discovered we had a genuine synchronicity. I decided to create a piece for the two of us, one that would be all sung and danced, no words spoken. We invited major stage director Susan Stroman to come listen to us sing some of the tunes we wanted to include, hear what we wanted to accomplish. When she invited us over to her studio to explore it further, we knew she had signed on to direct and choreograph our show. The music ranges from showtunes to popular music and anthems, 28 songs in all, with no intermission.
And I have a history with the Eisemann Center in Richardson. Patti LuPone and I opened the Center with our Patti/Mandy show years ago; I’m always delighted to return to perform there.
Is it harder to do concerts or perform in plays? Which do you prefer?
I prefer doing concerts overall. It’s a freer form. There is more flexibility to make the show more relevant to ongoing world or personal events. There are so many fabulous songs out there, written by incomparable musical geniuses. I get to be “the mailman” for these genius composers and their messages of impact.
What is the job of the artist in society?
Our task, our job, is to hold a mirror up to nature. Artists generally have a high sensitivity to the human condition and reflect on it in their work, portray the emotions created by great composers and writers.
What makes a song a classic?
It’s something we want to hear over and over that resonates on a universal level. Shakespeare, Sondheim, Randy Newman, Paul Simon—all so simple and honest and clear in reflecting the human condition. They connect to something in all of us. Geniuses.
What is the key to being funny?
Being just yourself, being truthful, not trying to “act funny.” There is something about putting a picture frame around an aspect of the human condition onstage that allows us to look at it in heartfelt, touching, and sometimes funny ways. Just think about the terrible things happening every day in the world; you’ve got to laugh at the human condition or you will die.
Do you have any personal connection to Oklahoma City?
My main connection is my friend, native Oklahoman Tracy Letts, my castmate on “Homeland.”
Do you ever think you will retire?
I hope not. I need to create something all the time. I’m addicted to it.
Do you have a favorite song or play?
The play that I’m currently doing or the song I’m singing at the moment, or the show I’m in or the film that I’m just working on. I truly love my life. I know how lucky and privileged I am. I don’t take this life I have for granted and cherish every moment.
Will audiences get to see anything new in “Dress Casual”?
Absolutely. I’m breaking in a new song right now. I think I will include it in every concert I give.
Alexandra Bonifield is a Dallas-based arts reporter.