Exclusive interview

Mandy Patinkin to celebrate ‘Being Alive’ in Feb. 9 concert in New Bedford


A concert “is my favorite thing to do, of all the things I do,” says Mandy Patinkin, the 70-year-old actor and singer. “It’s immediate. It’s in the moment. The audience defines the evening. That’s who I’m doing it for. It’s the first concert in three years, since before the pandemic. I thought, ‘We’re all feeling alive again. Let’s celebrate!’ ”

Patinkin will perform his solo concert, “Being Alive,” on Feb. 9 at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, in New Bedford. The tour takes its name from a Stephen Sondheim song and will feature Patinkin’s career-long specialties: Broadway hits and standards from the Great American Songbook. He is accompanied on the tour by pianist Adam Ben-David.

Renowned as both an actor and singer, Patinkin’s career is difficult to pigeonhole. He is perhaps most famous for his portrayal of Inigo Montoya, the Spanish swashbuckler, in the 1987 adventure-comedy film “The Princess Bride.” But among fans, the Chicago-born actor is known for his transmorphic range of characters: Dr. Jeffrey Geiger in “Chicago Hope,” an extraterrestrial detective in “Alien Nation,” and the voice of Papa Smurf in “The Smurfs,” among countless other roles. Patinkin is also revered for his stage work: he created the role of Georges Seurat for the Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park with George,” for which he won a Tony Award for Best Actor in 1984.

Patinkin has also long explored his Judaism, both personally and as a performer. One of his breakout performances was as Avigdor in the 1983 film “Yentl,” for which he won a Best Actor Golden Globe. On his second studio album, “Dress Casual,” Patinkin included the traditional Yiddish song “Yossel, Yossel.” He went on to record an entire album in Yiddish, titled “Mamaloshen” (“Mother Tongue”), a mix of folk tunes and translated songs by Jewish composers. “Mamaloshen” won a Deutschen Schallplattenpreis, Germany’s equivalent of a Grammy.

“The Jewish experience defines my experience,” Patinkin says, with his trademark intensity, during a recent phone interview. “I carry the history of my people with me, people I never met, relatives I never met, worlds I never encountered but are in my DNA.”

Patinkin’s humanitarian work has also long included Jewish causes and themes. In 2005, he and his son Isaac, now 40, bicycled 264 miles across Israel to help raise funds for the environmental organizations Hazon and the Arava Institute. In 2015, he worked as a volunteer to help Syrian refugees in Greece. In 2020, he filmed political ads for the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

“In the old days, I used to say [my Judaism] is about kindness and forgiveness, compassion and empathy,” Patinkin said, using the Yiddish word rachmanus. But as time has passed, Patinkin says, he focuses less on forgiving.

“People don’t need apologies and forgiveness. They need new action to repair the world. Fixing things. It’s become more active for me,” he says.

A powerful chapter in Patinkin’s career was also his most controversial. In 2005, he was cast as FBI profiler Jason Gideon in the television series “Criminal Minds.” Nearly every episode centered on grisly murders by serial killers, and Patinkin says he struggled with the role.

“I would probably be defined as a method actor; it’s connecting to something that is extremely alive and real in my imagination,” he says. “At times, my imagination is my reality. I look for things that connect me that are visceral, that matter to me. I look for that connective tissue.”

During the production of “Criminal Minds,” Patinkin visited former concentration camps in Europe, a pilgrimage that deeply affected him.

Citing creative differences, he abruptly left “Criminal Minds” in 2007. The breach of contract caused a stir and bruised his reputation, but he says his decision bolstered his mental health.

“To connect to the horrible serial killer stories, the women and children that were being brutalized and murdered, I went to places I had visited, concentration camps in Europe, the images that were very strong in me,” Patinkin recalls. “I would often have to go there to be alive in a scene. Literally solving the most horrific crimes imaginable, it was comparable to what my people experienced. I couldn’t take it on a sustained basis.”

Patinkin followed up “Criminal Minds” with projects that spoke to him more, such as his lead role in “Compulsion,” Rinne Groff’s stage play about Anne Frank’s complicated legacy. He returned to television in Showtime’s terrorism drama “Homeland,” based on the Israeli series “Hatufim.” This time, his character, CIA agent Saul Berenson, better matched the actor’s real-life sensibilities: a sensitive, caring man questing to mitigate future violence.

Patinkin has also performed solo concerts for decades, most recently his show “Diaries,” whose tone he describes as “a little bit darker.”

As 2023 begins, Patinkin is eager to hit the stage for the “Being Alive” tour, which will take him up and down the Eastern Seaboard, including the Feb. 9 concert in New Bedford.

“Being Alive” will spotlight uplifting musical numbers; Patinkin says that in each auditorium, he hopes to reach his audience with a message of hope.

“You only get one life,” muses Patinkin, who is a cancer survivor. “Don’t waste it. The people who wrote [these songs] designed them for guys like me to be the messenger. I want four words on my tombstone: ‘He tried to connect.’ ”

For information and tickets for the Feb. 9 concert, go to Zeiterion.org.

ROBERT ISENBERG (risenberg@jewishallianceri.org) is the multimedia producer for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and a writer for Jewish Rhode Island.

Mandy Patinkin, Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, New Bedford