Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn

Music, Stage

Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn live review (Hamer Hall, Melbourne)

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It was always an odd pairing, but I suppose that was meant to be part of the charm; Mandy Patinkin, star of stage and screen, currently winning praise as Saul Berenson in Homeland, but best known to musical theatre aficionados for his roles in Sunday in the Park With George and Evita, alongside Nathan Gunn, one of America’s most in-demand operatic baritones, who’s briefly dipped his toe in the music theatre pond with Carousel and Camelot. Patinkin is the showman, dressed casually in a black sweater and pants with white sneakers, and Gunn is the classically-trained, solid-as-a-rock baritone in a full tux.
But as they stormed onto the stage with a medley (mash-up?) of Singing in the Bathtub and Figaro’s Aria from The Barber of Seville, it became clear that the two had genuine chemistry and that Gunn’s ever-so-smooth classical delivery was a match for Patinkin’s old school showbiz chutzpah. They have that rare and unteachable ease onstage, and with each other, which means they’re completely unfazed by anything that happens around them. A flubbed lyric? Pfft! A momentary sound problem? Meh! The audience doesn’t mind, so why should they?
Though the songs are all mostly locked in, the banter is surprisingly loose. Patinkin tells stories off the cuff, interrupts Gunn and chats with the audience. Whether the two are genuinely under-rehearsed with their banter, or just masters of seeming charmingly under-rehearsed, who knows, but it throws the focus on the performances and their dynamic.
The show is a little less successful musically. Gunn is a singer at the absolute height of his power – his voice is powerful, rich, and surprisingly agile. Patinkin, who, let’s face it, everybody was there to see, was probably at that peak 20 years ago. That’s not to say he doesn’t still have power or depth to his voice, but it ain’t what it used to be, and that shows when he tries to match Gunn in the show-stopping, belt-it-out stakes. When Patinkin does what he does best – deliver a lyric powerfully and directly, as he does in a performance of Cat’s in the Cradle – he’s untouchable. He connects with an audience because he’s a consummate, effortless actor, devoted to serving the lyric. When he sings Bohemian Rhapsody from beginning to end, with every part, the effort shows and it’s not all that enjoyable.
Gunn sounds superb in everything he sings, but it’s in the simpler melodies that his voice truly finds its groove. You mightn’t think you really want or need to hear Home on the Range, Oh Shenandoah or If Ever I Would Leave You in concert, but his delivery reminds you why these songs have endured.
They’re supported by Julie Jordan Gunn (Nathan’s wife) and Paul Ford (Patinkin’s long-time collaborator) on piano, who are both nimble, versatile and responsive accompanists. It’s just a shame that the arrangements didn’t use the two pianists as effectively as they could have in some of the show’s bigger moments. With two spectacular musicians playing together at the same time, surely there could be something more musically intricate?
But then it ended with a sublime performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday that swelled into a spine-tingling moment, and brought the audience to its feet. It’s one off the bucket list for Sondheim and music theatre-junkies – hear Mandy Patinkin sing Sunday live. All was forgiven.
[box]An Evening with Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn plays Auckland on November 24, Sydney on November 26 and Brisbane on November 28. Tickets are available at mandypatinkinlive.com[/box]

One response to “Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn live review (Hamer Hall, Melbourne)

  1. It was a night of pure entertainment. One of my favourite moments was when Patinkin sang Harry Chapin’s “Cat in the Cradle”. I’ve always like this, but just as a nice song. However, it was sung with such feeling, it brought the words truly to life for me and for the first time I heard depths in the lyrics that I’d ever heard before. This is the mark of a true artist. As a trained classical singer myself, I felt honoured to hear Gunn ‘in the flesh’ as it were, though I would have prefered to hear his voice naturally without the mike. Like you, I would have loved to hear more from the two pianists, individually by themselves or playing a duet without the singers, but it wasn’t to be. Both Patinkin and Gunn have natural ‘presence’. This you are born with, it cannot be taught. I went home satisfied that we had all had a night to remember.

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