And while one can’t quibble with his wish, there’s something unintentionally amusing about the way he casually throws it in to the middle of a show that also features a rendition of the Kermit the Frog ‘classic’ It’s Not Easy Being Green. The urge to giggle is strong.
It’s these indulgent moments that sometimes threaten to capsize proceedings.
Earlier he’d performed a tremulous version of Sonny Boy, making much use of his famed falsetto, and even after being informed that the song was performed by him at a memorial for a dead friend, this blast of undiluted sentiment seemed excessive.
The dilemma with such songbook shows is the level of familiarity that is assumed of the audience; here things seemed firmly pitched at Patinkin’s fans. Of which there are, admittedly, quite a few. The man has done a lot in his career. As well as his impressive Broadway CV, he is also a familiar face on television, with lead roles in shows such as Criminal Minds and before that Chicago Hope under his belt. He’s done film, taking on the unenviable task of starring opposite Barbara Streisand in Yentl and, perhaps most memorably, featuring in The Princess Bride, and straight theatre, recently playing Prospero in a production of The Tempest by New York’s Classic Stage Company. In previous shows in this run of concerts he has given audiences a taste of his performance in the latter, but tonight we get no Shakespeare.
Accompanied only by pianist Ben Toth (a short notice replacement for his regular collaborator Paul Ford who was taken ill days before this brief residency in the West End began), Patinkin, clad in black, stands on a stage artfully strewn with backstage clutter. He tells a few meandering stories, makes sure we all know he backed Obama, and he even does a bit of singing.
He has a particularly affinity for the lyrically complex songs of Sondheim and performs numbers from Sunday In The Park With George and Sweeney Todd, encores with a song from Evita (for which he won a Tony) and gets the audience to lend a hand on Oklahoma.
In one of the few genuinely comic moments, he broke into a Yiddish version of White Christmas, which got a big laugh. But too often he overcooks things, mugging through some numbers and, in one rather toe-curling moment, donning his reading glasses to quote the Gettysburg Address. Patinkin has the power to tug at the heart with voice alone and he really doesn’t need to go so far.
When he gets on with the business at hand, of performing, of singing, then there’s much to enjoy here, but there was too much garnish and not enough context. I wanted to know more about the music, where the songs came from, why he picked them. My chilly British heart was alienated by the constant syrupy interludes.
To be fair, the audience seemed pretty evenly split on the matter. At the end of the show (which runs to near on two hours without an interval) for every person who jumped to their feet, whooping and cheering, there was someone else looking a little bemused and slightly relieved that it was time to go home.