- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

In good old New York patois, what's not to like about Mandy Patinkin and his new solo show-plus-one, which opened Tuesday at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater?

Well, almost nothing except possibly some overmiking and an occasionally distracting headset and wire. The man is a wizard with voice changes and vocal gestures, offering up no fewer than 36 smoothly fashioned Stephen Sondheim tunes in whole or in part in just less than 90 minutes for a program formally billed as "Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Celebrating Sondheim."

The presentation, a feature of the center's ongoing Sondheim Festival, runs through June 30, during which fans of composer-lyricist Sondheim are treated to a review of many of his most popular songs very nearly a reprise of his career minus offerings from "Passion" and "The Assassins."

Mr. Patinkin's longtime piano accompanist is Paul Ford, who is credited with the arrangements and remains discreetly in the background on a moodily lighted stage. The intimacy of the hall is used to good effect, with the stage width deliberately shortened by the use of two large, oddly boxed floral bouquets on each side. The only other props are a stool, a glass of water and a lamp. A bluish light plays across this melancholy landscape.

Only Mr. Patinkin is spotlighted, and his entrance is marked by a single striking chord. The Tony- and Emmy Award-winning singer, a veteran of Broadway, TV and Hollywood, stands stolidly midstage with hands clasped almost prayerfully in front of him. He wears a cherry-red sweater, loose-fitting black trousers and white athletic shoes.

His is a commanding presence, nonetheless; his few movements are choreographed with agility and precision. The intensity and passion with which he delivers each song wins the audience at once and without any obvious direction in the sequencing. Titles and the order of the selections were kept a surprise until the end, when ushers passed out a list of the tunes to the audience as it was leaving the theater.

Surely that is just the way Mr. Patinkin wants it. He neatly segues from one song into the next, often with barely a pause for breath and sometimes playing one word against another or having the end word of one song become the first one of the next. It's a trip down memory lane an alternately rollicking, mournful, thoughtful and always emotional experience. Seldom have Mr. Sondheim's lyrics been heard so clearly or expressed so well.

Curiously, and fittingly, the man who triumphed 18 years ago on Broadway as the star of Mr. Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park With George" begins and ends the program with two of that show's best-known songs. It's a nice touch, especially because "Sunday" is playing through Friday downstairs in the Eisenhower Theater.

From the wonderfully didactic lines of "Lesson # 8" (order, harmony, design, etc.) in "Sunday," the audience is catapulted into the driving, tongue-twitching lyrics of "Another Hundred People" of "Company" fame, "When" (from "Evening Primrose," a lesser-known Sondheim work), and then three of the most romantic tunes the composer ever wrote signature pieces in "Sweeney Todd" all delivered with impeccable phrasing and elegant interpretation.

Mr. Patinkin pauses once midway for a quick bow and applause, giving him a much-needed breather, and then we are off again to witness all of Mr. Sondheim's wisdom and humor in memorable form. "Take the moment, let it happen," the performer tells us in words Mr. Sondheim wrote for Richard Rodgers' music for "Do I Hear a Waltz?" Take advantage of the "fleeting joys," he says and count yourself lucky if these include the opportunity to see and hear Mr. Patinkin in his prime.


****

WHAT: "Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Celebrating Sondheim"

WHEN: Tickets remain for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday

WHERE: The Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW

TICKETS: $50

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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