Friday, 22 November 2013

An Evening With Mandy Patinkin & Nathan Gunn, Nov 21, 2013 ****1/2

Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne, Nov 21, 2013 (Sydney Nov 26, Brisbane Nov 28)
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****1/2
 Review also published  in Herald Sun online on Nov 22, 2013 and later in print. KH 
  Mandy Patinkin & Nathan Gunn
 Seeing Mandy Patinkin perform live is like watching musical alchemy. He is breathtaking.

Patinkin (even his name sparkles!) is a beacon of American musicals, TV and film (The Princess Bride, Homeland), and is joined on stage by the distinguished US baritone, Nathan Gunn, and two virtuoso pianists (Julie Jordan Gunn, Paul Ford).

Rather than being a curated, thematic program, the evening is a collection of Patinkin and Gunn’s favourite tunes including opera, musical theatre and American classics, all linked with stories, banter and jokes.

I could rhapsodise for hours on Patinkin’s consummate professionalism, charismatic stage presence and his impeccable timing and delivery, but words seem too tepid to describe his inspired, live performance.

The two men’s styles are polar opposites, with Patinkin capering about in sneakers and casual black clothing while Gunn looks classically formal in a tuxedo.

Patinkin’s bright, pure upper register and idiosyncratic vibrato make his voice utterly distinctive and recognisable, and he creates a strange and wonderful harmony with Gunn’s dark, velvety baritone.
Gunn is a master of the operatic style and his rich and emotive renditions of If I Loved You (Carousel) and If Ever I Should Leave You (Camelot) are moving and flawless.

Patinkin remains the overwhelming star of the evening, despite the marvellous collision of vocal styles and the genuine generosity and warmth between the pair.

He has an easy charm, a delicious wit, a surprisingly lithe, muscular physicality and sensuality, and he inhabits every song, immersing himself physically and emotionally in character, story, lyric and music.

Every song surges with a wave of dramatic energy until it reaches its passionate crescendo.

Patinkin is a renowned exponent of Stephen Sondheim’s music and, in Ballad of Booth from Sondheim’s Assassins, he brings to vibrating life Lincoln’s obsessive assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

He expresses Sondheim’s complex, dramatic and passionate qualities in his nuanced performance of two songs from Sunday In The Park With George, magically conjuring an entire, vivid and passionate world in the signature song, Sunday.

He performs a remarkable, unique version of Bohemian Rhapsody and a vivacious rendition of Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody that pulsates with energy.

The laughs come thick and fast with Patinkin’s audacious, comic sensibilities and, with Gunn, he creates hilarious Yiddish-English versions of Maria from West Side Story, and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.

Inserted between the songs, Patinkin and Gunn perform a startling patter poem about dodgy salesmen (think Bernie Madoff), a riotous, rapid-fire, hand-puppet routine, and Patinkin tickles the audience with his jelly-legged cowboy clowning.

The one minor hiccup is a chunk of Americana – Civil War anthems intercut with the entire Gettysburg address, followed by cowboy songs – that probably has more cheesy, US nationalism than Australian audiences can appreciate.

Patinkin’s performance is a sublime master class in acting, and his merging with Gunn’s accomplished classical voice makes a quirky and compelling evening.

Kate Herbert

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