In the first place, it’s quite an unusual concert. A speech of Prospero in The Tempest segues into John Lennon’s “Imagine”. An unlooked for thumbs-up for the new film Australia is followed by the most beautiful version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” you’ve ever heard. And then, two weeks late, we’re dreaming of a white Christmas sung in Yiddish.
And in the second place, Mandy Patinkin delivers everything you want and expect: a soaring, eye-watering account of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables, deadly definitive versions of Sondheim classics from Sunday in the Park with George and Sweeney Todd and a nod, in his first encore, to the show that he introduced on Broadway, Evita.
Thirty years after Evita, Patinkin finally sings “Oh, what a circus” on a London stage, and it’s electrifying. It was five years later, in 1984, that he first straddled the full range of Broadway musicals in Sunday in the Park, revealing that pin point clarity in the upper register that distinguishes him from all other musical theatre tenors but which also sometimes gives his voice a freakish, other-worldly character.
Appearing for just nine performances at the Duke of York’s in dress down slacks, trainers and sweat shirt, with piano accompaniment, Patinkin reveals the origins of his music-making in the Jewish cantor tradition by way of Al Jolson and Irving Berlin. It’s as if, like us, he is in awe of his own talent, aware that this voice can do virtually anything and should be allowed to go its own way and do what the hell it likes.
He may be known for the high notes, but he opens out in full barrel-chested sonority when required in an unaccompanied rendition of Henderson, De Sylva and Brown’s “Sonny Boy” and in his emotional farewell: “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places, that this heart of mine embraces all day through...” Rosemary Clooney gave that great Sammy Fain number a wistful creaminess; Patinkin makes you feel he means it even more than he can say. And when he prays on stage for peace in the Middle East, you want that as much as he does, too.
- Michael Coveney