BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Bombastic Broadway belter Mandy Patinkin confides what he most likes to listen to at home: quiet.
“I don’t like music and noise or TVs on at home. I like the quiet,” says Patinkin, an original star of Evita (1979) and Sunday in the Park With George (1984), who sings in concert 7 p.m. Sunday at Broward Center for the Performing Arts. “I have music in my head all the time. I’m always going over these lyrics, taking hikes, going to the gym, running stuff, learning stuff. I love it more than anything. When I walk out on stage, that’s not my work. That’s my vacation. But for whatever reason, I’m not a big listener of music.”
Patinkin, 61, who won a Tony as Che in Evita and has taken home several Emmy and Golden Globe awards for film and TV shows including Yentl, Chicago Hope and Homeland, says he’s busier than ever.
“When I have a schedule like I thankfully have had, I have for the past several years, where I do this TV show Homeland and I have to say, I learn out loud. When the brain learns music, it’s easier to learn music than to learn words. It’s a different part of the brain. There’s been all kinds of studies about this,” Patinkin says. “When I have to learn text for Homeland or a movie or a play, I have to do it out loud hundreds and hundreds of times. Both to rehearse it, to find out what it is that I think of the ideas or the words or images that come to my mind, but I do it out loud and I need a rest from it.”
Patinkin says his first love is the theater. Sunday, he performs “Dress Casual,” a one-man show of old and new songs accompanied by pianist Paul Ford.
“I love being on the stage doing these concerts because to me it’s theater, even though it’s not a proper play or proper musical,” Patinkin says. “I’m in a theater with people live, in the audience, anywhere from 300 to 2,000 or 5,000 people. That immediate feeling that we’re all together, listening together, reacting to the words and music that we hear at that moment, written by geniuses — and I’m just the mailman for them. We listen together, and we infect each other, either with silence in how we listen or laughter or with the kind of energy that's in the room, but it’s contagious. We’re not alone. It affects the entire performance. It affects what songs we choose to do next.”
Patinkin says screen and TV work is more like a business for him.
“I feel much more like a good servant in terms of film or television. My job is to serve everyone else’s needs, to give them as many choices as possible so when we leave any given angle or any given scene, that the editors have as much as I could afford to give them and as much as time can afford to give them. Because it’s too expensive to go back and do it again,” he says. “In terms of reaching how many people, whether it be how many millions of people you reach by a television show vs. anywhere from 300 or a couple of thousand people in a theater, I love what the Torah says: Save one life, you save the world. Now, I don’t consider singing a song necessarily saving a life, but I use that phrase ‘to touch one life and you touch the world.’ My favorite word in life is ‘connect.’ Connect to one life, you connect to the world. It’s not about numbers. It’s about connection to me.”
Patinkin grew up in a Conservative Jewish Chicago household. He describes how he developed his interest in music and theater:
“It began in the synagogue listening to the liturgy of the cantor and choir. It somehow went from there to Broadway show tunes and popular American music. The popular American songbook,” Patinkin says. “It evolved by people I meet. My son Gideon is a musician and a performer and a writer. He introduces me to material. My friend Taylor Mac, who is wonderful writer and performer, he introduced me to material I wasn’t familiar with, like R.E.M.’s End of the World as We Know It. Paul Ford introduces me. He’s like the Library of Congress when it comes to the popular American Songbook.”
Patinkin says he’s spiritual but doesn’t attend temple on a regular basis.
“My synagogue is the theater. I go on the High Holidays, I like being there and again I like being connected to the sounds of the Hebrew songs, the prayers, the other people. The fact that other people are saying these words all over the world at a given moment in time. It just comforts me.”
Patinkin and actress-writer Kathryn Grody, married since 1980, have two sons, Issac, 31, a massage therapist in Alaska, and Gideon, 27, the musician.
Sometimes, Gideon shows up at Patinkin concerts and performs with his dad.
“He comes with me every now and then throws the old man a bone and comes on stage with me and sings a few songs which I love,” Patinkin says. “You could peel me off the ceiling anytime that happens. These days he’s busy on the road doing his own stuff. He’s writing a new show that’s gonna be done in New York at the Fringe Festival. He’s got his own life where at the moment he doesn’t have time for the old man, except to call me when he’s riding on the road in the car.”