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How a lie reunited Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin

The Associated Press, Tuesday, November 15, 2011, 3:29am (PST)

NEW YORK (AP) -- It was an audacious lie that really reunited Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone.

Nine years ago, a theater in Richardson, Texas, was christening a new performing arts complex and an overeager booker decided to play a little mind game to secure the perfect opening night act — the two Tony Award winners from "Evita."

"They called my people and said, `We have Patti.' And then they called Patti's people and said, `We have Mandy,'" says Patinkin. "They didn't have either one of us. And we were friends."

The pitch was this: Each performer would take the stage and sing for about a half-hour and then perform something together and call it a day. That didn't appeal to Patinkin — "I hate these kind of evenings," he says — and he was about to blow it off until he started playing with it in his mind.

What about instead of one of those typical benefit evenings, Patinkin and LuPone teamed up to tell their journey using familiar and unfamiliar material that was both spoken and sung? What if they performed something that could change and grow as they did?

Patinkin, who turns 59 later this month, went down to consult with LuPone at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where she was starring in "Noises Off" on Broadway. They laughed about the Texas offer — she was also going to blow it off — and he made his pitch.

"Go ahead, doll," she told him after.

Almost a decade later the resulting show "An Evening With Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin" rolls into New York, making its Broadway debut at the Barrymore Theatre for 63 performances starting Nov. 21.

The duo sing plenty of songs from John Kander and Fred Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, Irving Berlin, and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, pulling heavily from such shows as "South Pacific," "Merrily We Roll Along" and "Carousel." In between songs, Patinkin and LuPone tell stories.

"The connective tissue is our lives. We chose material — spoken and sung — that follows this journey. Some of it is just flash entertainment because that's part of our lives, too," he says during an interview in his handsome Manhattan apartment. "Other parts are other aspects of our lives that are musically and lyrically echoed."

The two met in 1978 during rehearsals in Los Angeles for "Evita," he cast as Che and she as Eva Peron. Both were very green and scared. Patinkin recalls one day knocking on her dressing room, walking in and hugging his co-star for strength.

"We held each other and we talked to each other and we made a silent pact — with no words — that we'd never let go of each other for the rest of our lives. We were there for each other," he says.

"Evita" would turn into a huge success, earning Tonys for both Patinkin and LuPone. Though they didn't work together again until now, they attended each other's weddings and cooed over each other's children. When the offer from Texas came, they leapt at the chance to reconnect in a two-person show.

"We are there for each other like I have rarely experienced in any stage of my life. It's like walking on steel girders when I'm with her — it's safe and dangerous all at the same time," he says.

"I look in her eyes, at different places in the show, in quiet moments when nothing's happening, and I am back in time 30-some years," he adds. "I am that 25-year-old guy. She looks the same to me. It's like a time machine. She just whips me back in time. And it is magic to me."

Speaking of time machines, Patinkin says he's looking forward to seeing a revival of "Evita" this spring starring Ricky Martin as Che and Argentine actress Elena Roger in her Broadway debut as Eva Peron. "I can't wait to see it," he says.

In the years after "Evita," Patinkin became a star in "Sunday in the Park With George" and toured his various solo concert shows — "Dress Casual," "Celebrating Sondheim" and "Mamaloshen." He has also put out seven solo albums.

Pianist Paul Ford, Patinkin's frequent accompanist, who will be there for Patinkin's concerts with LuPone, says he first met Patinkin 23 years ago when they did "Sunday in the Park With George" together. Ford has been amazed at his friend's ability to think on his feet.

"He is the most amazing improviser," says Ford, who adds that the best times he's ever had playing the piano have been on stage with Patinkin. "He is extremely versatile on his feet and quick, and he just grabs an audience."

Patinkin won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Dr. Jeffrey Geiger in "Chicago Hope," and has starred in films such as "Yentl" and "Ragtime." He may always be known as Inigo Montoya, the swashbuckling swordsman in the "The Princess Bride." He says people still stop him on the street and ask him to say his famous line: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Earlier this year he starred in the Anne Frank play "Compulsion" at The Public Theatre and just finished shooting the first season of Showtime's terrorism drama "Homeland." But his heart is in music.

"If you told me, `Mandy, you have to choose one thing. You have to choose between film, and television and recording and plays and concerts — you have to make a choice. You can only do one.' I would choose the concerts," he says. "It's the freest form. It's the most immediate."

Patinkin celebrated his 33rd wedding anniversary this summer with actress and writer Kathryn Grody and they have two grown sons, Isaac and Gideon. Gideon, a musician in his own right, has begun getting on stage to sing with his father.

After the Broadway run, the concerts known informally as Patti-Mandy goes on tour go to Kansas City, Mo., from Jan. 17-22; Sarasota, Fla., on Feb. 14; Thousand Oaks, Calif., from March 20-25; Stevens Point, Wis., on March 29; and Richardson, Texas, where it all began, on Sept. 15.

Patinkin is looking forward to getting out there, his eyes lighting up when he talks about the joy of the road. He says he loves touring, meeting people and keeping on the move. It might be stressful for many, but not Patinkin.

"I get so relaxed at the airport. Nobody rushes me. I don't forget my computer in the little bin. I take my time. I chat with the TSA guys," he says, laughing. "I love getting patted down. You can't pat me down enough."

———

Online:

http://www.pattiandmandy.com

http://www.mandypatinkin.org

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Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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