Yesterday, I mentioned about having seen Mandy Patinkin in concert. It was at the Ravnina Music Festival, and I was reminded of a story about it. I suspect the tale leading up to the story will be longer, since it's about one of my favorite places, but hey, life is a journey...
First things first, I love Ravinia. It's the summer home of the Chicago Symphony, sort of like Tanglewood more than the Hollywood Bowl. There's a huge open-air (but covered) Pavilion that seats 3,000, but then people can also buy inexpensive tickets and picnic on the grounds, where the park can accommodate another 15-18,000.
It's not all classical, opera or ballet, though, they also have pop, rock, jazz, folk, and musical theater. I grew up on Ravinia, living about a mile from the park in Glencoe and would often take a shortcut and walk through the Turnbull Woods to get there. (It was just across the "border" from Cook County into Lake County, where Ravinia is an area of Highland Park.) Ravinia is where I saw one of my most memorable concerts ever, Louis Armstrong performing the summer his recording of "Hello, Dolly!" exploded, and he had to sing (I'm not exaggerating) at least six encores. It might have been eight.
I also worked at Ravinia for a couple summers when in college. Mainly in downtown Chicago before they moved their offices to Highland. But also backstage on pop-rock-folk nights as a PR department liaison. Thatt's where I got to make a joke at Arthur Fielder's expense that mortified my boss, the general manager of the festival. The three of us were backstage before a rehearsal, and Fieldler mentioned that a piece he was conducting, Charles Ives's "Variations on 'America,' was very controversial with audiences. Being a devil-may-care college kid, I said, "Well, then, it's just as well that you wore a red jacket [which was his trademark], because if people throw tomatoes they'll blend right in." My boss, the GM, wanted to die on the spot. I'm surprised I wasn't fired on the spot. (He said, in a sardonic voice, "Oh, Mr. Elisberg...you can goooooo...") Arthur Fielder just looked at me like, "Who is this idiot?"
But I digress. This is about Mandy Patinkin.
Ravinia also has a smaller theater, now called the Martin Theater, I think. (It keeps changing.) That's where Mandy Patinkin performed. It's all indoors, for chamber concerts and more intimate performances, charming and elegant, seating about 500 people. Usually that's all they get -- unlike the Pavilion, people don't generally buy lawn seats for the Martin. But sometimes they do. And they did on the night when Mandy Patinkin was there. It got a pretty good lawn crowd, in fact, and they piped the sound out there. But nothing to see. Today, they might have a video screen (they do for the Pavilion shows), but not then. You just sat on the lawn, picnicked, and listened to the music over speakers, while the lucky people indoors paid for the full show.
Mandy Patinkin in concert is wonderful. Whatever you think of his high voice and theatrics, he's a great performer. A multi-Tony winner, he knows how to command a stage, and has great presence interacting with the audience. Not just "and for my next number," but telling stories and involving the crowd. He's also from Chicago, and at one point, during a break between numbers, (he may have even asked for requests), someone in the audience yelled that he'd brought a sweatshirt from Patinkin's high school and wanted to know if he could give it to him. Sure, bring it up. I believe he even put it on and wore the sweatshirt for a while.
During the show, since he has such an awareness of the audience, he'd periodically reference the lawn crowd outside, saying that he'd hoped they were enjoying the evening and occasionally he'd thoughtfully describe what they couldn't see. And then came my favorite moment.
At this particular particular time in the concert, he paused and said something like, "Wait, I've just been talking to the people outside, but they should get to at least see something." He called backstage and asked the stage crew if the microphone cord was long enough to reach the side door. It was, so he jumped offstage, ran through the theater and went outside. Before he even got there, you could hear the cheering start from the lawn. When the door finally opened, and he went through, it became a roar. And he didn't just make a perfunctory appearance, but performed two full songs outdoors.
He returned inside, and finished the show. Which was a joy. As I said, he has quite a way with the audience, and whatever you think of his singing (I'm a fan), if you get a chance to see him live -- he's puts on one heck of an ingratiating show.
Here's him at his most frenetic and engagingly theatrical, performing with the Boston Pops, it looks like. In fairness, the song, "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup," is supposed to be frenetic. It's by Kander & Ebb, from the musical, 70, Girls, 70, about how the world today has gotten too...well, frenetic.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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