A now-defunct record shop I used to frequent had a CD of Yiddish songs called “Mamaloshen” on display. I ignored it until one day it was on sale for a very low price. I bought it and took it home for a spin, discovering that Mandy Patinkin was not only a terrific actor (“Ragtime,” “The Princess Bride”) but an outstanding singer as well.
His seasoned voice has aged liked the proverbial fine wine, but anyone expecting an evening of garden variety Broadway show tunes last Thursday night at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa was likely disappointed by a program that was anything but predictable. His repertoire was remarkably eclectic—everything from Chick Webb’s “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” (made famous by Ella Fitzgerald) to Meredith Willson’s “Rock Island” to Freddie Mercury and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a showpiece Patinkin paced as though running a marathon.
It was a nostalgic, reflective evening, marked by songs like the 1907 Will D. Cobb-Gus Edwards tune, “School Days,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” and Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” Patinkin also took time for an anecdotal meandering down memory lane, talking about his Chicago beginnings and early career efforts. He closed by singing the E. Y. Harburg-Harold Arlen classic “Over the Rainbow” in Yiddish, referencing the song’s Jewish context as well as his own roots.
If many of the songs were introspective and sung from the heart, he lightened the mood by clowning and joking much of the time. He pulled out any number of props, including a bullhorn and an oversized newspaper, and further surprised the audience by engaging in a fair amount of pantomime. Patinkin was most ably accompanied at the piano by Broadway arranger-music director Adam Ben-David.
Coming up at SCFTA: Midori with Festival Strings Lucerne (Nov. 10), American Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker (Dec. 8-17, preceded by a kid-friendly version Dec. 2), the Pan American Nutcracker Suite Reimagined, featuring the New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band (Dec. 22), and Itzhak Perlman (Jan. 24). www.scfta.org.
Self determination, the search for identity, and the yearning for a better life, not to mention a bigger house, ooze from every pore of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” now in a handsomely-mounted revival at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa (through Nov. 12). Some of that yearning and frustration is simmering under the surface, but not very much under the surface, of this hugely influential play that premiered on Broadway in 1959 (the first by an African American woman to have that distinction).
This complex but highly relatable play touches all the bases—gender politics abound, the feminist daughter of the black family at its core rails against assimilation, and a community liaison concerned about integration is the face of thinly-veiled racism. Small wonder “Raisin” is a fixture in classrooms today, or that it inspired August Wilson and many other writers.
Khanisha Foster directs a stellar ensemble with distinction. Most noteworthy are the three women in the cast: Tiffany Yvonne Cox (as Ruth, the head of the household), Ashembaga Jaafaru (her sister-in-law Beneatha) and Veralyn Jones (Mama, the mother-in-law). Josafath Reynoso’s scenic design is a plus. www.scr.org.
Nathan Broxton, Tiffany Yvonne Cox and Ashembaga Jaafaru in South Coast Repertory’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorraine Hansberry. Photo by Robert Huskey.