Mandy Patinkin Tells His Story in Song
From Sondheim musicals to dramatic TV roles, the versatile singer-actor keeps adding to his long list of credits
THE title of Mandy Patinkin's new album on Elektra/Nonesuch is ``Experiment,'' but the original title was actually ``Shhhh.'' The actor-singer, who is not known for understatement, says that he was trying to make a quiet album. ``Basically, I was listening to my critics,'' he says, smiling, during a recent interview in his spacious Upper West Side Manhattan apartment.Skip to next paragraph
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``Experiment'' is Mr. Patinkin's third album, the other two being his eponymous debut and the second, ``Dress Casual.''
His latest is a song cycle containing 18 songs detailing the story of a relationship. Although he stresses that it is not meant to be literal, when asked to explain the meanings of the song selections he enthusiastically launches into a song-by-song explication, quoting lyrics, even singing snatches of the songs - all of this two feet away from me. Even for an audience of one, this passionate performer goes all out. Deeply personal choices
The songs range from standards like ``As Time Goes By,'' ``Where or When,'' and ``Always,'' to show tunes like ``Something's Coming'' and ``I Dreamed a Dream,'' to more eccentric choices like ``How Are Things in Glocca Morra?'' The constant, Patinkin stresses, is that they're all deeply personal: ``Of all the work I've done - plays, films, whatever - if I died today, I would want my kids and my wife to just listen to this. This is the most personal way that I can express my heart. Even though none of the words are written by me.'' Other albums
Patinkin's first album was also an eclectic collection. About that release, he says, ``I just set about looking for songs that I liked that spoke to me. If somebody asked me what the unifying theme was, my answer was, `They all mean something to me. They're lessons to me.'
`` `Dress Casual' is more vaudevillian, it's more entertainment. I like the pieces on it, but as a total work it is nowhere near to my satisfaction as the first or third.''
To showcase the new album, he recently performed it, from start to finish, in a series of special shows at the Off Broadway New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre.
Sitting in a chair, often with his eyes closed, the singer, sans amplification and accompanied only by his frequent collaborator Paul Ford on piano, gave an utterly absorbing performance.
Today, several days after the last show, Patinkin is still uneasy about how it went. ``I can't take the pressure,'' he says. ``I'm never as good when I know that people who are writing about it are out there.''
``Experiment'' is a kind of combination inspired by two of Patinkin's favorite albums, Harry Nilsson's story album, ``The Point,'' and ``A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night,'' a collection of standards.
In his own work, Patinkin says, ``I'm not interested in the music, only the words. I like to tell a story.''
He is particularly fond of standards: ``The reasons these songs live on, and the reason they're attractive to me, is that there's a hopefulness, an idealism, that is very positive in their lyrical quality - as opposed to the fury and hysteria in much of the lyrics today.''