Patinkin's Ravinia Performance is a Family Affair

09.02.11
An Evening with Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn
Highland Park Patch

Mandy Patinkin brings son on stage as a score of relatives listen.

By Steve Sadin

Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn turned the stage into a family living room Wednesday night as the audience reacted with a standing ovation to the intimacy of their performance.

This may not seem so unusual except Patinkin, a native of Chicago's Hyde Park area and a Kenwood Academy graduate, was singing to his family. The audience was full of relatives and they all had an opinion of his second Ravinia appearance.

“All Patinkins are related,” Stuart Patinkin of Riverside said when asked about the coincidence of their common names.

Patinkin and Gunn sang 31 songs between them ranging from Broadway tunes like “If I Loved You” and “If Ever I Would Leave You” that made Patinkin famous to numbers like “Shenandoah” that showcased Gunn’s operatic training.

Patinkin made the evening a family affair when he sang “Cat’s in the Cradle” in a duet with his son Gideon Grody-Patinkin. The number was touching as the two singers alternated lyrics as the father and son in the song described the change in parent-child relationship over time.

“The song is so universal,” said Lora Patinkin, Mandy’s cousin from Skokie. “It is generational and says something.”

Two other Patinkin relatives, David Ness-Cohn of Morton Grove and Avi Lesser of Wilmette, both liked the singers’ rendition of “Trouble” from the 1962 musical The Music Man. Lesser liked the talking staccato of the lyrics and kept doing his own rendition after the show.

Ness-Cohn noticed something else.

“It was the beginning of rap,” he said. “It showed the transition to rap.”

A three-number Civil War sequence allowed Patinkin and Gunn to display the diversity of their talent. Gunn, making his fourth appearance on the Highland Park stage, is a veteran of the Metropolitan Opera of New York and has performed in some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses in Paris and London.

Patinkin won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series on Chicago Hope and a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical as Che Guevara in the premier of Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Evita in 1980.

Gunn began the sequence singing the old American classic “Shenandoah” moving into the Civil War song, “Tenting Tonight.” As Gunn sang the lines “Wishing for the war to cease, many are the hearts looking for the right to see the dawn of peace,” Patinkin began to speak the words of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Two performers interspersed the speech and songs—“Shenandoah” and “Tenting Tonight”—until all were done as Gunn sang “dawn of peace” one last time. They followed the trilogy with the “Ballad of Booth,” giving the supposed reasons the John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln.

The evening was not without its lighter moments. Gunn broke into a beautiful rendition of “White Christmas” as only an operatic voice could do. Partway through the song, Patinkin interrupted him.

“This should be sung in Yiddish,” Patinkin said at which point they did a duet with Patinkin singing “Veiss Nytl” (“White Christmas” in Yiddish) while Gunn continued with the English version.

When the song was over, Patinkin gave his explanation.

“Irving Berlin wrote that song,” he said. “His first language was Yiddish and he never wrote a song in Yiddish. There were others after him like [Leonard] Bernstein and [Stephen] Sondheim.”

With that, Patinkin broke into a Yiddish version of “Maria” from West Side Story. Gunn added the English as they sang through another of their 15 duets.

The evening concluded with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as Grody-Patinkin joined his father and Gunn on stage. From the sound of the applause from the standing audience, it is little wonder it was a crowd favorite.

“It was so positive, so optimistic,” said of Highland Park. “It was so good to end on a positive note.”