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Mandy Patinkin In Concert (Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue)

(seen at the performance on 19th November 2023).

A piano, a chair and a ghost-light are all it takes for this Broadway legend to mesmerise a West End audience for almost two hours.

Avuncular, shambling, chaotic yet far more in control than he lets on, Mandy Patinkin is almost a musical theatre version of “Ted,” John Bennett’s sweary bear from the 2012 movie. Difference is that this Ted can blend songs and stories of over 50 years in the business.

A 70 year old man standing centre-stage singing “Inchworm” from “Hans Christian Anderson” is an unexpected and compelling beginning. The song drifts into “Dear Old School Days” and mid-way through Patinkin drifts a little too, needing his pianist Adam Ben-David to set him back on track. “Going to be a long afternoon” Patinkin quips.

Still, “you’re the one I want to go through time with” he sings, and we do. “Time In A Bottle” seems appropriate and it’s a lovely bittersweet sentiment.

His terrific comedy turn “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” becomes a heavy police investigation by a bored local cop putting the “bull” in “bullhorn;” before further shenanigans with a wonderfully played tribute to the silent movie and classic Hollywood with a medley “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” / “Rambling” / “Movies Were Movies” (from “Mack and Mabel”) and “The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues” complete with mime.

Another nod to the era with Gene and Fred Kelly’s “I Love To Go Swimmin' With Women” from (googling) “Deep In My Heart.” A little “Singin’ In The Rain” to end on a tap or three with a little Chaplin thrown in.

Moving from upstage towards us, “A Lunch In The Park” lead us back to “Movies Were Movies” before a little Randy Newman interlude continues the “Old Town USA” theme with the stunning “Dayton, Ohio – 1903” and every parent’s thought about their child “Wandering Boy.”

Remembering the birth of his own son in London in 1982, around the same time as a kid called “William” apparently... nope, him neither... lead us to a slightly insane “Queen” twist. “Bohemian Rhapsody” in full – the Yiddisher Freddie Murcury. And very fine it is too.

1940’s Alan Rankin Jazz standard “Easy Street” is a huge contrast, another skilled gear-change, quickly followed by Irving Berlin’s “Can You Use Any Money Today?” and a little monologue about Maydoff the conman with reference to “The Music Man” thrown in.

His own nostalgia for Chicago neighbourhood is reflected in “Buckingham,” self-penned by Mr Patinkin – P.A.T.I.N.K.I.N as he spelt it out – in an incredibly beautiful song about the place he remembers and the pleasure of showing them to his wife as they pose for photographs in the neighbourhood. 

A slightly mad “Anything Goes” acapella dance break lets off steam before a full throttle dramatic “Soliloquy” from “Carousel.” From proud boasts of what his son may do, to the realisation that he would have to be a father to a girl, it is a rare chance to see an experienced older man truly understand a number usually sung in the show by a callow and angry youth.

More amazing stories about those he has met, including the man who sang on the album with the “Scrabble” cover – Stephen Sondheim himself, “Anyone Can Whistle” from the show of the same name paying tribute in seemingly casual style.

Sucker-punching the monkey, who knows exactly where the words and emotions are coming from, “My Mom” by Marc Anthony Thompson is a deeply moving choice about a man entering his family home to visit his mother whose memory is fading through dementia. The song is perfect, so is the performance.

Signalling a reflective final quarter, “You've Got to Be Carefully Taught” from “South Pacific” is a standard, immaculately executed. 

Returning to Sondheim in similar vein, “Children Will Listen” from “Into The Woods” is usually sung by a woman, but in male voice becomes grandfatherly sound advice handed down through generations.

Equally wise, Kermit the Frog’s signature tune “Bein’ Green” lifts the mood a little but adds a fun twist. Still on the water, covering Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had A Boat” is simply a beautiful melody and sentiment, which combined with “Sorry-Grateful” and “Being Alive” from “Company” celebrate the meaning of family and the strength of human bonding.

Finishing in as unique manner as he opened the show – just a little (well, a lot) sweatier with the effort yet effervescent enough to suggest the spirit could go on all night - the classic “Over the Rainbow” is given an unforgettable twist being performed in the second half in the old and sadly fading language Yiddish. 

With a pause to assist all by going through the song list, Mr Patinkin and Mr Ben-David exit to thunderous applause, the monkey finally ticking off its ambition to see the great Mandy Patinkin perform live. 

A very, very special event it will treasure along with the rest of an unanimously sated audience. Proof still that the old, classic and lesser-known numbers in the best hands will always endure to entertain new generations; if we are allowed to preserve them and perform them as they are here.

5 stars, standing ovation.

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