After 30 years, Mandy Patinkin still blends song, film, TV, activism and Judaism in his life.
Featured photo by Joan Marcus
Mandy Patinkin — singer, actor, activist — will bring his musical talents to Detroit on Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Fisher Theatre. His 30-city concert tour, Diaries, features a mix of classic American tunes, material from recent recordings and a little bit of Broadway.
“The name Diaries comes from a journal I was doing of new songs,” says Patinkin, who is accompanied by pianist/musical director Adam Ben-David (see accompanying story).
“These are songs that speak to me on every imaginable level — from funny and silly, to serious, to life lessons, to family. They are songs by Sondheim, Randy Newman, Queen, Oscar Hammerstein, Harry Chapin, Lyle Lovett and others — and one that I wrote.”
Patinkin’s new CD, Children and Art, was released last October in conjunction with the beginning of his music tour. Many of the songs he sings on stage are taken from the CD.
At the time he was putting together his musical repertoire, he was filming the final season of Showtime’s hit show Homeland, in which he plays CIA agent Saul Berenson.
“In January 2019, I flew to Morocco for seven months and came back to Los Angeles for two months to shoot the eighth and final season of Homeland,” he says.
That season begins airing Feb. 9, and he admits wrapping it up was very emotional.
“It was an amazing time in our lives,” Patinkin says. “Homeland gave me endless gifts and wondrous experiences, but it was exhausting, and we were in need of moving on. Yet, it was unexplainably emotional. When we were done filming, I came back home to New York City and met a friend for lunch. He said, ‘You are free,’ and I couldn’t talk and started to cry. It was a huge part of my life for more than eight years. I don’t even have a reference point — every other job I’ve had was no longer than two years. This was so special.”
Judaism and Acting
In Homeland, Saul is Jewish, and Patinkin was able to incorporate some of his Judaism into the series. “The first time it happened, we were in a safe house and a Muslim fellow thought to be a terrorist was on the floor dead,” he recalls. “I was standing there with the cameras rolling and I started to say the mourners Kaddish in Hebrew. The cameraman didn’t know what I was doing, and the director didn’t say cut, so I said the whole prayer. In another episode, there was a huge incident where many people were killed, and it ended with me walking among the bodies saying Kaddish again. It was an improvised moment that I did, and it became part of the fabric of the show.
“There was a plaque written in Hebrew on Saul Berenson’s desk that says, ‘Save one life as though you have saved the entire world. Take a life as though you have destroyed the entire world.’ I tried to get that plaque in every shot.”
Judaism has always been a part of Patinkin’s life. Growing up in Chicago, his family belonged to a Conservative synagogue and, at age 7, he began singing in the choir. “Being Jewish has always been part of the definition of my being,” says Patinkin, who had gone two summers to Camp Surah in Michigan, a Hebrew immersion camp that no longer exists.
By age 14, he knew he wanted to become an actor. “I went to the Young Men’s Jewish Counselor Youth Center in Chicago and started doing plays,” he says. “After being in one play, I loved it and never looked back.”
After a year at the University of Kansas, Patinkin transferred to Julliard to study drama. After Julliard, he started working at the Joseph Papp Public Theater. While there, in 1979, he auditioned for the part of Che Guevara in Evita. He got the role, played opposite Patti LuPone and went on to win a Tony Award.
Since then, Patinkin has carved out a wonderful career in theater, film, television and singing. He starred on Broadway in Sunday in the Park with George; other stage credits include The Wild Party, Falsettos, Winter’s Tale and Hamlet. On the big screen, he starred in Yentl, Life Itself, The Princess Bride and True Colors, among others. In television, he won an Emmy for his performance in the CBS series Chicago Hope.
As a recording artist, he has released solo albums, including Mamaloshen, a collection of songs he sings in Yiddish. He has been touring since 1989.
Married 40 years to actress Kathryn Grody, they have two sons: Isaac, a community organizer in Colorado, and Gideon, a performer and composer.
When he is not working, Patinkin is very involved in social causes, including the International Rescue Committee, where he has traveled abroad to help refugees.
“When people need help anywhere in the world, like our Jewish ancestors, we must learn to welcome them,” he says. “Being involved in helping refugees is one of the best privileges of my life.”
Another privilege, he says, is touring and singing in live concerts. “When I am on the road, audiences are kind, generous and appreciative you came to their home,” he says. “It’s a wonderful feeling — that’s why I have been doing this for 30-plus years.”
Mandy Patinkin will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Fisher Theatre, Detroit. Tickets start at $55 and can be purchased online at broadwayindetroit.com or ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 982-2787.