Mandy Patinkin’s reputation as a difficult interview preceded him. He can be cantankerous. Don’t waste his time with trivial questions. Be prepared for a quick hang-up.
This is the same guy who walked off the set of the TV show “Criminal Minds,” leaving his co-workers in a difficult spot. He quit “Chicago Hope” after winning an Emmy Award because he missed his family. He got fired from the movie “Heartburn.”
But on the phone, the actor who moonlights as a singer could not be more accommodating.
His publicist said she would do her best to set up a time to talk in the coming week. An hour later, she emailed again and said, “How about now?”
Fifteen minutes later, Patinkin is on the phone, sounding chipper and eager to talk about his singing career, which brings him to Portland’s Merrill Auditorium on Friday night.
“I’m in a parking lot at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Charlotte, N.C.,” he said, “I am down here filming ‘Homeland.’”
Now’s as a good a time as any, he said. Ask away.
Singing, he said, is his salvation. Acting is what he does for work. But singing “is my first love. I absolutely need to do it. My life is not complete without it.”
He grew up in Chicago, and at age 13 began doing musicals at the Young Man Jewish Youth Council. “I hated high school, and musical theater was the place I found my pleasure and my joy. I connected with musical theater, and started singing,” he said.
His “Dress Casual” show mixes Broadway and show tunes, with pop songs mixed in. He promises he will sing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and often performs Paul Simon and Randy Newman songs, and now and again might attempt R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine”). Many versions of his take on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” are all over YouTube.
His voice has great range and resonance. When he sings in his high-tenor, his voice makes you feel like you are on a cloud, floating and lilting.
It’s just him and his longtime pianist pal Paul Ford. The two met in 1984. Ford was the rehearsal pianist for “Sunday in the Park with George,” the Broadway show in which Patinkin starred as George and for which he earned a Tony Award nomination. (He won the Tony in 1980 for his role as Che in “Evita”).
They’ve been playing together since.
“He’s my musical director and my Library of Congress when it comes to this genre of music. Nobody listens like Paul Ford. He knows I am going to make that change before I know. He’s got great instincts, and it’s just a thrill to have this marriage with him on stage for all these years. I do not know what I would do without him, I don’t know if I would do it without him.”
In addition to the show-tunes tour, Patinkin has a program of Middle Eastern songs. He frequently performs with orchestras, also sings opera.
He has about 12 hours of material rehearsed and ready to go. We’ll get about 90 minutes in Portland.
“We walk out onto a bare stage and away we go. There’s no intermission,” he said.
Patinkin schedules concerts around his acting career. His current TV show is the Emmy-winning TV drama “Homeland.” He plays the uber-intense CIA director Saul Berenson.
He enjoys the show, and has no plans to leave anytime soon. “It couldn’t be doing better, and I love it,” he said. “I think it’s going to be on for a long time.”
That said, Patinkin does not compromise when it comes to music. Singing grounds him, and helps calm him, he said.
“If I did not do it, I would get bored and I do not want to get bored, so I sing a lot. ‘Homeland’ works around my concert schedule. I get lonely if I do not perform this music.”
At 60, he is happily married with grown kids. He lives in New York, though he spends most of his time on the road – in North Carolina filming “Homeland” and touring with his show. “I am on the road so much, I often feel I do not have a home,” he said. “I love my work, and my home is literally where I am working, the theater I am singing in, the set I am filming on, the play I am doing. Whatever it is, I love it.”
After wrapping up “Homeland,” he will get some time in New York. He and Susan Stroman are collaborating on Taylor Mac’s “The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville” in mid-December.
The stage show may well mirror his concert. It is billed as: “It’s the end of the world as we know it. A flood of Biblical proportions leaves us with only two people on earth, who discover their common language is song and dance. Together they chronicle the rise and fall, and hopeful rise again of humankind, through music that runs the gamut from Rodgers & Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim all the way to R.E.M. and Queen.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: