Mandy Patinkin, Nathan Gunn unite at Ravinia
BY LAURA EMERICK Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org August 24, 2011 5:40PM
MANDY PATINKIN & NATHAN GUNN
♦8 p.m. Aug. 31
♦Ravinia Festival, Green Bay at Lake Cook, Highland Park
♦Tickets: pavilion, $75; lawn, $15
♦ (847) 266-5100; ravinia.org
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:33AM
When Broadway icon Mandy Patinkin and opera star Nathan Gunn first met, they were side by side for Sondheim.
Actually, they were sharing quarters last year at New York’s Lincoln Center in preparation for “Sondheim! The Birthday Concert,” an all-star tribute to the composer (which aired on PBS and was later released on DVD). “So many people were involved that we had to share dressing rooms,” recalled Gunn, speaking from Santa Fe Opera, where he was working with apprentice singers. “I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me, but when you’re in such close quarters, you talk a lot. We realized we had a lot in common when it came to music. Over the course of three or four days, we realized it might be fun to put a show together.”
Speaking from the set of his Showtime series “Homeland,” Patinkin added, “We really it hit off, and I said, ‘It’s been a long time since someone from the opera world and the world I live in really crossed paths.’ You’d have to go back to the era of Carol Burnett and Beverly Sills,” referring to the Broadway and TV comedienne and the American opera star who famously paired up in a series of TV specials in the ’70s. “Nobody was doing it today.”
So working with their longtime accompanists, they put together “An Evening With Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn,” which features them in a wide-ranging program of Broadway, opera, Americana, Yiddish and pop selections (and which they’ll perform Aug. 31 at Ravinia).
They play to their respective strengths; Gunn, 40, one of the opera world’s leading baritones, with a repertoire that runs from Baroque to contemporary, also has moved into musical theater, performing “Camelot” with the New York Philharmonic and “Showboat” at Carnegie Hall. (He’ll reprise his role in the latter at Lyric Opera of Chicago this season.)
Winner of a Tony for “Evita” and an Emmy for “Chicago Hope,” Chicago native Patinkin, 58, has recorded albums of Yiddish songs (“Mamaloshen”) and children’s tunes (“Kidults”). He also has a long list of theater, TV and film credits, including his iconic role in “The Princess Bride” (1987).
For their program, they also mix it up. “We introduced each other to music we hadn’t [heard] before, and we came up with this program, which is a little bit of funny, a little bit of serious and a little bit of classical and pop,” Gunn said. “They might be on different trees but they are all part of one forest.”
Accompanied by pianists Paul Ford and Julie Jordan Gunn (Nathan’s wife), Patinkin and Gunn offer solos and duets. “Mandy starts off singing in the bathtub, while I have this ‘Largo al factotum’ [the famous baritone aria from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville,” popularly known as “Figaro, Figaro”] thing going on,” Gunn said. “So I come in in the middle of that, and I’m sort of the voice he imagines he sounds like while singing in the bathtub. Then we do ‘Agony’ [from Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”], and he does ‘Japanese Sandman’ [a hit for Jazz Age bandleader Paul Whiteman] after that. We both love Tom Waits, so I put in a Tom Waits song [“Innocent When You Dream”], and couple of new pieces, such as ‘This Heart That Flutters’ by Ben Moore.”
The Gettysburg Address even factors in. “I’m really into the Civil War era, and so I recite the Gettysburg Address while Nathan sings [the Civil War ballad] ‘Tenting Tonight’ behind it,” said Patinkin (who’s a tenor but admits, “I don’t really know what I am vocally; I’ve never figured it out.”).
They’ve developed a mutual admiration society for each other. “Mandy and I get along really well, and it’s a joy to work with him,” Gunn said. “There’s also sort of a father-son aspect [between us].”
Actually, Patinkin’s son, Gideon, 25, joins them in the show. “He does his own thing; it’s very separate from what I do,” Patinkin said. “Every now and then, he throws his old man a bone. There’s nothing I love more than having him onstage with me.”
The theme throughout is finding a common bond. “Programs like this show with Mandy is part of what keeps me going,” Gunn said. “I love working with a variety of artists who are from different areas of the music world, because it seems like there’s too much of a divide between us all.”
Patinkin agrees: “This is what we love to do. The point is to communicate. Through our show, we hope you get the sense that good music is just good music.”