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Stand Back, Broad and Chestnut!

October 18, 2007
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Mandy Patinkin
It is a revolutionary reunion: "Evita" and Che storming the stage. On your mark, get set -- sing!

Stand back, Philadelphia!

For Mandy Patinkin, stationing himself on stage alongside fellow phenom Patti LuPone 27 years after they both won Tonys for their roles in the revolutionary "Evita" -- he was Che to her evolved "Evita" -- is somewhat akin to riding a bike.

Well, he's had plenty of practice at that.

"Love biking around Central Park, love biking," says the literal spokes-man for biking as a vehicle for building up bodies when not on stage building his bulging body of work.

After all, it wasn't that long ago that he played big wheel as one of the easy -- "Easy? Just you try going up those Judean hills!" -- riders in the 265-mile, six-day excursion of "Cycling for Peace, Partnership and Environmental Protection," put together by New York's Hazon and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies of Israel.

Climb every mountain? The sound of music was more grunt than grace note back then in '05.

But, oh, the music he's making now: Patinkin and LuPone will share the Prince Music Theater stage at 1412 Chestnut St. for an octet of concerts beginning on Oct. 23.

"An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin" promises to be some enchanted evening, indeed, with top-ranked choreographer Ann Reinking doing the legwork for the show. Ford in his future? Always: Paul Ford, Patinkin's longtime musical maestro, is serving as musical director here.

Patti and Mandy ... "Gypsy" and the journeyman biker? Hardly: Both multiple-award-winning "Broadway babies" glimmer in a glamour that is the sweet sweat of soulful talent. It is as if LuPone and Patinkin are kin in a cousins club, where the relatives actually know the lyrics to each other's life.

It would take a criminal mind to suggest otherwise.

Oh. That. "No comment," says Patinkin patently of his mysterious missing-in-action real-life role from TV's hit "Criminal Minds," in which his fans were giddy with delight over his portrayal of the grim, graceful Gideon, not above sticking it to the vermin while playing papa with the pursed lips overseeing his FB-Oy boys.

"As it said in the statement I issued at the time, it was all about creative differences."

Okay, no difference to fans if he creates on TV, film ("Yentl," "The Princess Bride") or stage, where he's plied his one-man show of a thousand talents to acclaim and been the secret ingredient of the success of such other Broadway fare as "The Secret Garden."

"Garden"? Well, he was also the reaper in that macabre and mischievous TV show, "Dead Like Me."

But live theater is his treat, even as he tricks audiences into believing that that multi-octave voice he conjures is actually human. As for his current co-star, it's a delicious treat of Patti-cakes: "It's glorious being back on stage with Patti," he reveals and revels in the ringtones it conjures up.

Heart in the Right Place
And when those claps turn into claps of thunder, the erstwhile TV cardiologist knows that it is theater that really does his heart good. Transplant him back after 27 years to his "Argentine" amour of the stage?

"Patti's been a dear friend ever since we did 'Evita,' " he says.

So don't cry for Mandy, ardent Patinkin fans; the man who was "Chicago Hope's" best hope for an Emmy -- which he got as the hearty singing Dr. Geiger -- counters any concern that he's had it.

He still has it. And it all started with a Bar Mitzvah gift from his Dad that kept on giving and gaining. The envelope, please? Check it out: It contained tickets to Broadway shows. "My father took me to see Angela Lansbury in 'Mame' and Norman Wisdom in 'Walking Happy.' "

Smart choice. "It gave me such a sense of love for musical theater."

That was nearly 45 years ago. And he's been cookin' ever since.

And maybe noshing a bit. One of his favorite early reads? Grandma Doralee Patinkin's Jewish Family Cookbook.

C'mon, is the star of "Ragtime" about to rag on rugelach? Author! Author!

He offers: "It was written by my mother," he kvells of Doris "Doralee" Patinkin.

And if there's a dish for prachas in there, well, it all goes down well with his own sense of "Mamaloshen."

After all, it was "Mamaloshen" in which Patinkin took the mother tongue for a Yiddish thrill ride, uprooting his New York neighborhood walks for a walk on the Yid side all over the country, after first appearing in a Lower Manhattan space where audiences discovered that "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was as kosher as Crackerjack and the crack of a bat could get.

On deck -- always -- is family: "Just got back from an event with all the mishpachah," he says of his recent "feeding frenzy."

But, dahling, you look so thin, one is tempted to say: Essen, Mandele, essen. That must be one big matzah ball hanging out there, between the kvetching and the conditioning. He's on the right track, however, right now: "I'm on my way to the gym," he says.

Couldn't hurt. But then, as good as he looks, Patinkin knows the pain of unexpected ruptures of good fortune.

He survived prostate cancer. "I've been clear for three years," he says with a triumphant sigh.

Clearly, Patinkin -- who also underwent cornea transplants -- likes what he sees for himself these days.

"I have been given so much privilege," he says. "It feeds my soul. I have to do what I can -- tikkun olam -- to help repair the world."

When he repairs to his home, he has nothing but the comfort of knowing that family -- wife, Kathryn Grody, an accomplished actress; and his two kids, Gideon and Isaac -- is the genesis of it all. "Through them, I see how important everything is."

Sundays in the park with gorgeous wife and kids are a picnic his heart caters to in a big way. And yet Philadelphia may be the start of something big soon ...

"Baby steps," he says of the eight performances that may dance their way eventually to Broadway, a direction the maestro of menschhood is happy to think about.

But the yin-yang of Yiddishkeit soars still. And even as we talk of Che and Chez Patinkin, a spectral spatula of tzimmes appears as a magical mitzvah.

For those who fear Yiddish music faces the tone death, this artist is no arriviste in keeping it alive.

"We're going to do special private concerts of 'Mamaloshen' in people's homes throughout the country to raise funds for Arava," says Patinkin with a song in his heart.

Mad Mandy, road warrior? Not angry at anyone, anything. What matters, he says? Giving back, giving of himself. What gives?

"My brother-in-law once said, 'Our actions are the ground we walk on.' "

Info to Go

"An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin" is set for the Prince Music Theatre stage from Oct. 23 to Oct. 29.

For tickets, call 215-569-9700.

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