SCHENECTADY – Broadway trained, famed from film and TV, Mandy Patinkin commanded the Proctors main stage Friday with old-school entertainer’s ease. Personality pulled the 90-minute solo-with-piano show together, more than a unifying story-line or even a through-line of shtick; though there was story at times, and shtick.
Show tunes from “Sunday in the Park with George” and others exploded from Patinkin’s songbag-of-tricks, alongside unexpected mainstream (or not) pop tunes. His medley of Queen classic rockers was a glorious mess and might have been even funnier if he’d gone all the way with it to “We Are the Champions” or “We Will Rock You.” He certainly has all the voice for it.
Compact in black slacks and shirt, the singer-actor emerged to big applause onto the nearly bare stage and stood beside Adam Ben-David’s grand piano. He went to work in caffeinated glee with “Ya Got Trouble” from “The Music Man,” at first a glib, rapid monolog, then a powerhouse vocal as dramatic crouches, wide gestures and impressive vocal punch easily drew the crowd into a Q&A singalong. His head-mic freed his hands for shrugs and waves that, like well-placed sighs, punctuated the music.
Deepening the early nostalgic mood, he mourned bygone days with a wistful quaver, especially effective in “Dayton Ohio 1903.” He claimed credit for writing “Thank You for the Party” for his wife of 40 years, first in puffed-up pride, then playful false modesty. He turned serious in “Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight.” And after his quixotic Queen quest, laughs turned again to frowns as Randy Newman’s “A Few Words in Defense of our Country” took on today’s tragic tones without having to name names. He then dragged us deeper into death and destruction with Rufus Wainwright’s harrowing “I’m Going to a Town.”
“Beat Out that Rhythm on a Drum” brought us back up, way up, to a roar, Ben-David’s piano pumping, Patinkin at full shout. Breathless, he maintained crowd control by telling how, in earlier iterations of this “Diaries” show, he’d collapsed on his chair at that point to spin a long story while he recovered; that is, until his son questioned why he did this. “To get a rest!” Patinkin explained, flopping onto his back on the stage, then spinning a long story. He rarely used the chair, more often perching at the stage edge for intimacy or moving restlessly to generate and harvest energy.
Now 67, but trim, strong-voiced and agile, Patinkin seems much occupied these days with loss and mortality; pairing, for example, Marc Anthony Thompson’s “My Mom” about Alzheimer’s with Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” about frustrated dreams, stoically miming a grim grip on a steering wheel at the end; and a road-not-taken lament from Sondheim’s “Follies.”
Soon, he dispelled the gloom and doom with the soaring optimism of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Lyle Lovett’s wry “If I Had a Boat,” it’s “Kiss my ass” punch line drawing big laughs.
Encores brought more tragedy in projected video of refugees at sea, desperate, doomed, drowned. Good thing Patinkin blithely hollered “Have fun!” as he left the stage, un-ironic and good advice any time, especially after the emotional roller-coaster ride he sang Friday.