Making Memories with Superstar Mandy Patinkin in ‘Being Alive’Jan 31, 2024 11:00AM ● By Suzie Agrillo
Music is something that connects us all, resonates with our inner soul and is important to our overall health and well-being. As a concert performer, Mandy Patinkin is a maestro. A talented singer and storyteller, he will be illuminating the stage in “Being Alive” at The Fox Tucson Theatre on February 18. This intimate show is a compilation of Patinkin’s most beloved songs from Broadway favorites to classic hits.
Who is Mandy Patinkin? An American treasure, Patinkin was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He got his start singing as a child in the synagogue choir, and his acting debut in high school in the play “Anything Goes”. Patinkin attended the University of Kansas and the Juilliard School of Drama. In 1980, in his Broadway debut, he won a Tony award as Che Guevarra in “Evita”. A Renaissance person, Patinkin has transitioned his success from Broadway into television and movie stardom.
In 1995, Patinkin won an Emmy for his performance in the CBS series “Chicago Hope”. He starred in the series “Criminal Minds” as well as the Showtime series “Dead Like Me”. He is also famous for his roles like Inigo Montoya in the classic “The Princess Bride” and Saul Berenson in the award-winning “Homeland” series.
Most recently Patinkin has taken on the coveted role of Rufus Cotesworth, “the world’s greatest detective”, in “Death and Other Details”. The 10-episode murder mystery streams on Hulu starting on January 16.
Throughout his career, Patinkin has used his voice to raise money for causes near and dear to his heart. He has been involved with many organizations, including the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies, The Orchard of Abraham’s Children, and he serves on the Board of Directors of Americans for Peace Now.
A social activist, Patinkin works with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), founded by Albert Einstein, and led by David Miliband. Their mission is to help people whose lives are shattered by violence, racism, poverty and disaster, including climate change, and he travels to refugee camps all over the world.
Now in his seventh singing decade, Patinkin’s still a vocal powerhouse. His spectacular show at the Fox Tucson Theatre promises to be an unforgettable evening of live music. Per the Toronto Daily Star: “Minute for minute, pound for pound, he’s the most complete entertainer of his generation.” Patinkin resides in New York with his wife of 43 years, actor and writer Kathryn Grody.
A Conversation with Mandy Patinkin
Where did you grow up?
I have not grown up yet. Do you want me to get back to you on that?
What was the genesis of your career in show business?
I hated school. School had nothing for me; I couldn’t stand it. The teacher would call my parents and say, “I know he can do it, he must just be lazy,” but I was really just bored. When I was seven years old, my parents put me in the boys’ choir at a synagogue on the south side of Chicago.
I would sing with the cantor in the temple, and then the little old ladies would come up and pinch me on the cheek and say, “Oh, you’re so adorable.” I think it was the first time I got any positive reinforcement for anything that I did. In high school, my mother had given up on me. I was talking a lot in the mirror at home, and she suggested that I go to the neighborhood youth center to act in one of their plays. I told her, “You don’t know me at all—I’m not doing any plays.”
Then I was at South Shore High School in fifth period lunch, and a high school football player walked up to me and said, “You know we’re doing some plays at the youth center, and we’re short some guys—what do you think?” And I said, “Sounds great to me.”
I went over there, and I got cast in the play, “Anything Goes”. A wonderful man named Bob Kondor, who ran a costume shop in Chicago, did the pro bono work of running the after-school theater and drama program for the kids, and it changed my life. I was there every minute for the rest of my high school days and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do for the rest of my life.
What are the highlights of your upcoming show at the Fox Theatre?Me being there and being alive. I leave the highlights column for the audience members, for whatever they want to walk away remembering. The whole experience is a highlight for me.
At the end of 2021, after the pandemic shut the entire world down for years, I got together with Adam Ben-David, my piano player, and asked him, “What do you think about going back on the road? Are you up for that?” and he said “Yeah.” I told him, “I want to do something fun. I want to welcome myself back. I want everyone to have fun. We all need to be together again. Everyone’s been isolated, sitting at home on their couch.”
To create a new show, we went through 13 to 14 hours’ worth of material and started putting together material that was entertaining and fun. That’s how we built it. In 2022, we did a few west coast gigs to oil it up. Then in January of 2023, we hit the road and started doing it everywhere.
I love being on the move and the privilege of bringing music to people. When I started out, I never imagined that I would think of myself as someone with a service job. I’m not the genius who writes the songs, I’m just the mailman. We only have a finite amount of time to enjoy our precious lives. That’s why I called it “Being Alive”—because I don’t think there’s anything more wonderful on this planet than the privilege of being alive.
What made you say “yes” to playing the world’s greatest detective in the Hulu Network murder mystery series “Death and Other Details”?
I read the script, then I gave it to the smartest people I know—my wife, Kathryn Grody, my son Gideon Patinkin and my son’s writing partner, Ewen Wright. After I read it, I thought “wow”. This thing seems like fun, and I was looking for something fun, something not heavy. They agreed, so I called the producers up and told them, “I’m in.”
You recently turned 71, and you could rest on your laurels with all that you’ve achieved. What do you hope to bring forth in your personal life and career in the next decade?
In the next decade I hope to be reflective. A priority is to spend lots of wonderful time with my grandson, who will be two years old on February 5th, with my new grandchild who will be born in August, and with my family, friends and loved ones. Careerwise, I’m busy collaborating with opera star Nathan Gunn on a new show—we’re in the process of finessing it right now.
We also made a television pilot written by my son and his writing partner Ewen created for Showtime called “Seasoned”. It was a casualty of the strike, and so Showtime let it go, along with many other projects, but we own it, the pilot and the scripts we wrote. The good news is that Showtime was not the right home, so we’re looking for a new home that will be the right home as soon as Hollywood gets cooking and learns to walk again.
You mentioned you have a two-year-old grandson. What do you enjoy about being a grandfather?
His name is Jude, like “Hey Jude”. We go for walks, and recently he saw snow for the first time. Everything is a wonder to him. He calls me “Gramps”. I have a Lionel model train set, and he says, “Gramps, let’s play trains, trains, trains!” He has a great sense of humor. There’s nothing that I love more than a sense of humor. That’s what has kept my wife and I together for the last 3,000 years.
The significant difference between being a grandparent and being a parent is that when you’re a parent, you’re so busy feeling like their life is in your hands. You worry about everything—you’ve gotta keep them alive. As a grandparent your job is to shut up, don’t say anything of a critical nature to the parents, don’t give any advice and just enjoy them. So you’re completely free to witness all of the things that you probably missed with your own kids. He’s a pistol. I’m loving, loving, loving it!
What’s the best advice anyone has given to you?
“Have fun,” spoken by my dearest friend on his death bed. It’s a lot easier said than done. And another one I use during my daily prayer meditation, “I did the best I could.”
Do you have a favorite quote?
I have two. The first is by e.e. cummings: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.” The other one is by Shakespeare from Hamlet: “A thought which quarter’d hath but one part wisdom and three parts coward.”
Why should people come to see your "Being Alive" show?
I’ve been very privileged to do the work I love in a variety of different areas in the entertainment field. Out of all that I’ve been able to do, the live concert venue is hands down my favorite. It’s a reservoir of expression and material vaster than all of the oceans put together.
You can find things to sing and it’s always different, even if you’ve sung it a hundred times, because it’s going through the filter of the moment. I love doing this, and I love being with the audience. Please, please, if you have nothing to do, come. You can go to sleep if you’re bored, or if you hate it, leave. I promise you I will give you everything I have. I love doing it more than anything I’ve been allowed to do on the planet.
See An Evening with Mandy Patinkin: Being Alive with Adam Ben-David on Piano, at 7pm on February 18 at the Fox Tucson Theatre, located at 17 W Congress, Tucson. For more information, visit FoxTucson.com.
Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and the human connection. Connect at [email protected].