Photo: courtesy of The National Theatre

Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries

On the eve of his birthday, complete with a surprise birthday cake presented after his encore (with an enlightening reprise of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday”), Mandy Patinkin’s performance on November 29 was reflective and introspective, sparse and somber. 

At 67, Mandy Patinkin is not slowing down, evident by the 30-city Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries tour celebrating Patinkin’s four decades as a multiple Tony-winning Broadway performer, and presenting the diversity of songs covered on the quartet of Diary albums, recorded and released during the last year.  

Produced by Thomas Bartlett, probably better known to many as a songwriter, producer, and musician for artists such as Sufjan Stevens, Yoko Ono, and The National (amongst many others), the covers of American standards, Broadway classics, and contemporary troubadours of the Diary albums are touchingly melancholic, evocative and rich in their understated simplicity.

At DC’s rose-colored National Theatre on Friday night, however, the depth and richness of the recordings were replaced by a sense of haunting, nostalgia, and a preoccupation with loss. Patinkin entered in all black, with his curly hair longish in back and slicked back from his expressive face and greying beard. The stage set was simple: a piano, a stool, a chair (all in black), a single dangling Edison-style bulb on an extended cord. 

Patinkin’s impressive vocal range, too, remained stubbornly baritone, though still expressive in his distinctive phrasing, his breathy run-on pacing (the delightful “Trouble in River City”) or lowered and growly in many of the more somber covers, making his occasional higher register that much more thrilling but missed.

 Accompanying Patinkin was Adam Ben-David on piano, a little more prosaic than Bartlett but also more playful, emphasizing the lightheartedness of Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat” or the impishness of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the most operatic of rock anthems, pared down to Patinkin’s single baritone voice rushing through the usual competing melodies. 

These lighter moments were occasional, as many of the covers, including Randy Newman’s doleful “Wandering Boy,” to the keening of Joshua Rayzner’s “Refugees/Songs of the Titanic,” and Rufus Wainwright’s apocalyptic “Going to a Town” (with a transposition of Wainwright’s “America” with “Jerusalem” in the refrain “I am so tired of …”) took the celebration of Patinkin’s storied career on a dark turn.

 The title of the tour “Diary” implies a vulnerability, as in Patti Smith’s recent speaking tour/concert about a year of loss and rebirth for her new book The Year of the Monkey, Alan Cumming’s bawdy, cheeky, and political cabaret Legal Immigrant, or the bare confessional of Conversations with Nick Cave, but Patinkin lets his choice of songs tell his story. 

There are glimmers of his affable storytelling during an extended anecdote about accidentally eating a THC-infused chocolate bar while on an extended road trip, or a first date with his wife, actress Kathryn Grody. But his most telling anecdote was the tragi-comic death of comedian Dick Shawn who died onstage while reclining on a sofa during a bit, prompting Patinkin to joke that he would like to go out the same way. 

Having just finished filming his final episodes of the Showtime Original Series Homeland, recording four albums with a new producer after the retirement of his longtime musical collaborator Paul Ford, and embarking on a tour in support of these new releases, Patinkin’s pace of artistic output as acclaimed actor, singer-songwriter, and concert performer is impressive and invigorating. The tour concludes in February 2020, as the final season of Homeland premieres, giving Patinkin time to kick up his feet for a bit, enjoy a chocolate bar, and dream up his next project.

For more on the work of Mandy Patinkin, visit www.mandypatinkin.org.

The National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, DC; (202) 628-6161; www.thenationaldc.com