Mandy Patinkin talks about life; soon he’ll sing in Englewood
Mandy Patinkin never met a medium he didn’t like.
You may know him as Che Guevara in Broadway’s “Evita.” (He won a Tony for it.) Or Inigo Montoya in the film “The Princess Bride”. Or CIA officer Saul Berenson in TV’s “Homeland.”
And these are only the tip of an almost 50-year career that includes classic roles in classic productions, including Avigdor in “Yentl” and George Seurat in “Sundays in the Park with George.” And, of course, there’s his recording of Yiddish-language favorites, “Mamaloshen.”
But it’s the fans who attend his concert, “Being Alive,” on May 18 at BergenPAC in Englewood who will see the real Mandy Patinkin.
As he told me in a recent telephone conversation: “If you told me you can’t act, you can’t do plays, you can’t do movies or TV, you’ve got to choose just one thing, I would choose a live concert. Concerts are immediate. You get to be the mailman, deliver timeless songs that geniuses wrote.”
The mailman analogy is appropriate in other contexts. This is not the first time we’ve spoken. Every time, he delivers interviews with the same passion and honesty as he does in his performances. A lot of artists get bored telling the same stories hundreds of times to different reporters. They just go through the motions.
Not Patinkin, who at 70 is just beginning a roughly 65-city tour that in a strange way had its genesis in the pandemic.
In March 2020, at around the time of the mass shutdown, Patinkin ensconced his family in a vacation home in the Hudson Valley. “We bought the place in 1984 and would come up weekends,” he said. “But everybody had their lives in New York and I was always out on the road, so we wouldn’t get here very often. That broke my heart, because I wanted to live here.
“And then the pandemic happened.”
You’d think the city mouse would be bored, but he loved it. For one thing, he and his wife, Kathryn Grody, became Internet sensations after their son Gideon began filming them doing household chores and just hanging. These posts became so popular that Showtime plans a series based around them.
But it was more than that.
“Slowly, it became obvious we were going to live here,” Mr. Patinkin said. “We met people we hadn’t known before because we hardly been here. And so we switched. This is now our main home and I couldn’t be happier living in the country. I love it. I have a dog and we run around and take walks. This is something I’ve wanted my whole life.
“Also, this is the first time my wife and are together nonstop for 45 years. We were never together without a break for more than a few weeks. And I love it. It just made us so grateful for our family and each other and that we were alive. That’s why I call my concert “Being Alive.” It’s to celebrate the fact that we made it through this very difficult time.”
Mr. Patinkin’s longtime accompanist, Adam Ben-David, journeyed to the countryside to help Mr. Patinkin prepare. He’d play in the music room (wearing a mask) connected via an open window to Mandy on the porch singing along (wearing a mask).
That he does these concerts with only his pianist is in part due to the encouragement of the late impresario Joseph Papp. Mr. Patinkin wanted to do a concert tour but had misgivings about the approach.
Joe Papp came over to the house for Shabbas dinner one night and heard Mr. Patinkin complain. “Everyone is telling me because I’m from Broadway I need to do the tour with a big orchestra and I don’t wanna do it that way,” Mr. Patinkin said. “Joe said, ‘Well you haven’t asked me.’”
Mr. Papp, who was eager to cast Mr. Patinkin as Leontes in a Public Theater production of “A Winter’s Tale,” made him a deal. Take the role, and on Monday nights, when the theater would go dark, Mr. Patinkin could perform the concert his way at Joe’s Pub, a nightclub-ish venue that’s part of the public theater complex in lower Manhattan.
“I loved it,” Mr. Patinkin said. “I had a great time.”
So his concert future was set. There were advantages, he found.
“It’s a beautiful thing to be with an orchestra, but it’s a whole other world. You’re not focused in the same way on the material. Also, you have to rehearse with the orchestra pretty much half the day before the concert that night. It’s exhausting. I like to save the energy for the audience.”
Mr. Papp played an important role in Mr. Patinkin’s Yiddish life too. “He asked me to do a benefit for YIVO,” Mr. Patinkin said. Mr. Papp sent Mr. Patinkin “Yossel, Yossel” for him learn in Yiddish and helped him master it.
“Doing it at the benefit that evening, I can’t explain it, it just hit me in the kishkas,” Mr. Patinkin said. “At another Shabbat dinner, Joe told me, ‘You know, you are privileged being able to sing. This is your job.
“‘You need to get at the end of the line of all the people who have tried to keep this language alive. You need to learn it and you need to sing it.’ And I promised him that I would.”
Mr. Patinkin has told some of these stories before. About his Conservative Jewish upbringing in Chicago. About how singing in the synagogue choir and his time at Camp Surah, a Jewish summer camp, help set his professional course.
“You know the little old ladies — ha, the little old ladies were younger than I am now — they would come up to me after a service, pinch me on the cheek and tell me what a shayna boychick I was.
“I got attention and it made me feel good.”
What receives less attention, however, is his commitment to charitable work, to tikkun olam, particularly with the International Rescue Committee.
“I went to Berlin in 2015 to shoot one of the seasons of ‘Homeland,’” he said. “The first episode takes place in a Syrian refugee camp. At the same moment, 125,000 refugees were trying to get across the Balkan route to sanctuary in, of all places, Germany.
“There I was in a fictional world, doing this story, playing this character in a Syrian refugee camp, and the real world was burning. I looked at those pictures in the newspaper, and on the news, and I went, ‘Those are my ancestors. Like ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ or fleeing Nazi Germany.
“‘I want to be with them. I want to hold their hands, give them water, support them.’
“The minute I finished filming. I was on the first plane to Lesbos, Greece. I made phone calls and hooked up with the international Rescue Committee, and I started my journey with them, which continues to this day. We’ve gone all over the world from war zones to refugee camps to help people tell their stories, to bring attention to the refugee crisis, which sadly only continues to grow.
“My grandpa Max used to say, ‘Remember, the wheel is always turning. If you’re on top one day, you’ll be on the bottom the next. When somebody comes knocking, you open the door, because when the day comes when you need to knock, if you don’t open the door for someone else, no one will be there to open the door for you. Or your children. Or your grandchildren.’
“I met a little boy in Serbia. He was 10 years old, a gorgeous little artist. They were filming us talking on a park bench and I said to him, ‘Maybe some people will see a conversation. What do you want them to know about being a refugee?’ And he said ‘I want people to know kindness. Not just for me. Refugees needs kindness.’
“You meet people who have had horrific things happened to them. They’ve gone through much loss, pain, and suffering. And they pick themselves up. They build homes with their hands out of mud, and they walked two hours to bring their children to school. And then they walked two hours to stand in line for food.
“They never give up. And women gather, and they cry and weep for all they’ve lost and suffered. And then they dance, and they celebrate, and they teach you how to live.
“That continued to echo in my soul when I put this concert together after the pandemic and that’s why I chose to call it ‘Being Alive.’”
Who: Mandy Patinkin
What: Is in concert in “Being Alive”
When: Thursday, May 18, at 8 p.m.
Where: BergenPAC, 30 North Van Brunt Street, Englewood
How much: Tickets range from $65 to $165
For more information and tickets: Go to