Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for CurtainUp NYC Weather
|A CurtainUp Review
By Allan Wallach
Whether he's performing in concert or a Broadway musical, Mandy Patinkin approaches his songs the way an actor tackles a new role. Each song becomes a mini-drama, with the singer employing his wide-ranging voice and ferocious intensity to transform himself into a character in the grip of emotion.
With Mamaloshen ("Mother Tongue") he has found the ideal marriage of singer and songs. The concert, at Broadway's Belasco Theater following an engagement on the Lower East Side, lends itself beautifully to his deep-immersion approach. The songs, performed in Yiddish (with an occasional sprinkling of English), are tales of people caught up in moments of struggle or bathing in the glow of nostalgia or filled with patriotism for a New Land.
If Patinkin's histrionic way with a song has sometimes sent him hurtling over the top in the past, in Mamaloshen it works beautifully. Even for those of us who don't understand Yiddish, the songs are deeply involving. (A bit of guidance is provided by projections of such descriptive phrases as "A mother questions her daughter" and "A boy sells cigarettes to survive the war").
Simply dressed in slacks and a collarless shirt (he quickly sheds his jacket), Patinkin establishes an instant rapport with his audience as he sings the lovely Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen ("Raisins and Almonds"), in which, we're informed, "A mother rocks her child, wishes him everything." The song is characteristic of the nostalgic ones that, for me at least, are the most rewarding. Among others are the lilting Belz… ("Remembering a little town called Belz") and Oyfn Pripetshik… ("Children learn their ABC's at the fireplace").
Then there are the intensely dramatic songs, including Papirosin (the one about the boy selling cigarettes to survive), Motl Der Opreyter… ("A sweatshop worker struggles to support his family") and Lid Fun Titanic ("A ship is lost at sea-hope survives").
Interspersed with the drama are moments of humor, most notably in Tsen Kopikes ("Ten Kopeks"). The song, about a guy who wants ten cents to romance his girl, segues into playful Yiddish versions of a couple of American pop songs. Patinkin uses one of them, The Hokey Pokey, to get just about everyone in the audience to stand up for a bit of hokey pokeying. There's some laughter as well in hearing Yiddish versions of such familiar songs as the Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim Maria and (in the final encore) Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg's Over the Rainbow.
Patinkin gets invaluable assistance from his piano accompanist (Eric Stern at the performance I attended) and a talented young violinist named Saeka Matsuyama, who joins him for Der Alter Tzigayner ("The Old Gypsy") and the encores.
Mamaloshen probably appeals most strongly to those people with a knowledge of Yiddish and a yearning to hear again some of the sweet old songs. But others may find themselves caught up in emotions that transcend time and place.