Music: Mandy Patinkin Almeida, London

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The Independent Culture
Mandy Patinkin brings his own flower arrangements to the empty shell of the Almeida. There's a chair, an upright piano, a very capable pianist name of Paul Ford. But otherwise, Mandy Patinkin just brings Mandy Patinkin. He looks real casual about it - casual pants, casual black T- shirt, a pair of sneakers. Nothing fancy - just me, folks. No microphones, no electronic enhancements - just me, folks. All of me. Love me or leave me.

In another life, Mandy Patinkin was a Vaudevillian. Song and dance man. Come to think of it, isn't that what he is in this life? He comes on strong, he comes on singing. "Please play for me that sweet melody..." - and before you know it, we're joining in with every "doodle do do". We, an English audience. Please. Then it's into the comic voice-twister - every Russian composer you've ever heard of and a few you haven't in a haemorrhage of squeaks and glottal stops replete with minimalist cossack footwork. Cut to "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" taken a little more literally than Mr Sondheim (or Steve, as Patinkin's new album has it) can ever have dreamt. Then a quick sprint to the piano for "The Wrong-note Rag", and then something about a tisket, a tasket and a yellow basket involving a megaphone and a New York traffic cop. Don't ask.

So that's the first 10 minutes or so - a wacky stream of consciousness: Vaudeville, Nineties style. Patinkin is working the room and we're working up a sweat. We like him already. Is there a choice?

It's amazing. Mandy Patinkin live is so distracted and distracting that it takes a while to notice the voice. Maybe we've got used to it. It's so much a part of modern Broadway mythology, this strange falsetto, this curious bleating head-voice. It could drive a person crazy. But then he sits on his chair, he closes his eyes, he takes a song like Richard and Oscar's "If I Loved You" or Steve's "Loving You" or "Not a Day Goes By", and he spins phrases like he never wants to let them go. And he's won you again. But I wish he used the rest of his voice more. I wish he'd sing out more. Is it habit or a technical problem that reserves the baritonal chest-voice for angry climaxes only?

"The Soliloquy" from Carousel ends with the mother of them all. Defiance, determination, a regular ball-breaker. There's more music and drama in this one number than most composers put in a whole show.

And Patinkin is on its case. He really goes for "the method" on this one, and you're hanging on to every thought, word and deed. There's no such thing as over-the-top for Patinkin. Anything less is for wimps. On the evidence of "Ya Got Trouble", the pool number from The Music Man, I'd like to see his Harold Hill. The born showman playing the born showman. "Every time I get to the end of that number," he says, "I understand why Bob Preston is dead." Laugh, or else.

Sometimes Patinkin is so busy being Patinkin, being entertaining, being up-front-gutsy, that he misses the point. Approach "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" as a ranting polemic and you undermine the insidious understatement of the number. But Patinkin doesn't do understatement. If you're embarrassed by him, you've no business being there. It's all or nothing at all. He's a show-off - sorry, a showman - and there's an end of it. Come on, folks, we're into the Follies: that's what a number like "Buddy's Blues" is all about. You know you love it.

EDWARD SECKERSON

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