When the Stage Is His Homeland

While Mandy Patinkin has garnered Emmys and a Tony for his acting, the star actually views singing as a natural extension of this work. “I have always thought of myself as an actor, not a singer, but that I simply tell stories that happen to be in musical notes,” he shares. “So, I really think I am just reciting a tale and that the pitch is what changes.”

Patinkin, who plays Saul Berenson on the Showtime megahit Homeland, will bring this nuanced view of song to Westchester when he performs a wealth of popular standards at The Tarrytown Music Hall on May 20. For the actor, such musical performances are similar to donning a costume for a part. “Because singing is a different pitch than when we talk, it’s a bit like wearing a mask or having an accent,” says Patinkin. “Whoever I am most of the time is hidden a bit, and, ironically, that act of being hidden frees me.”

As one of the most esteemed actors currently working in television, Patinkin is intimately familiar with what it is like to successfully embody a character. Homeland is set to begin shooting its sixth season, which will be filmed primarily in the New York area, according to Showtime president David Nevins. The award-winning program’s subject matter dovetails with what has become one of the most important threads in the star’s life: his abiding concern for the welfare of those in need.

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In November, Patinkin traveled to Greece to aid Syrian refugees, a trip that was inspired by his acting work. “I was shooting the fifth season of Homeland in Berlin, and it was very dark material, which was a reflection of the real world,” the actor recalls. “The refugee explosion was happening all around Europe. They were fleeing this horrible war, and I wanted to go over there and walk with those people, hold their hands, give them comfort and reconnect with the real world, as opposed to the fictional world I live in while I’m working.”

Patinkin joined The International Rescue Committee [IRC] in Greece, where he met with several refugees and gained newfound respect for the organization’s work. “I was just so overwhelmed by these young people who run the IRC,” says Patinkin. “They literally set up a village to handle 5,000 people a day, and they are expecting another million. I also met families [of refugees], and I was so deeply moved by them.”

This experience compelled Patinkin to meet human-rights activists and workers in Cambodia with the American Jewish World Service [AJWS] three months later. Surprisingly, the actor’s television work informed his approach to this humanitarian journey, as well.

“[Homeland] is not reality TV. It is a drama, and I feel drama at its best is a poetic version of the real world.”

“I always felt Homeland was successful because it re-engages the lost art of listening, and I can tell you for a fact, that is what Saul Berenson does. Whether engaged in good acts or questionable acts, he listens,” says Patinkin. “When we were in Cambodia on this study tour, [AJWS president] Ruth Messinger said that the most important thing we could do is listen and that the power of that is unbelievable.”

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The impact of these trips on Patinkin is difficult to overstate. “These human-rights journeys I have been on have really been a sea change in my life experience,” he admits. “It was one of the great privileges of my life that I was able to go there and meet these people and speak for them. I don’t know if I will get a greater gift in my life than that, other than my children and my wife.”

However, this does not mean that Patinkin’s career has fallen to the wayside. He is currently working on a musical, traveling to Spain and Budapest to star in a movie with Penelope Cruz, and gearing up for his singing tour—not to mention shooting Homeland’s sixth season, which will air in September. For Patinkin, the importance of the show stretches far beyond its ratings and awards.

“[Homeland] is not reality TV. It is a drama, and I feel drama at its best is a poetic version of the real world,” muses Patinkin. “And what is that poetic version? It is what we wish the world would be, what we hope for.”

In his performance at Tarrytown, Patinkin hopes to tell stories through music, much in the way Homeland does through dialogue. “People like Gershwin, Bernstein, and Sondheim are the descendants of the Eastern European musical lineage. They are storytellers,” he says.

While Patinkin plans to continue campaigning for human rights around the world, he knows his homeland will forever remain the stage. “I love being with a live audience—that is where I am from—and I am never at home like I am when I am onstage,” he says. “I love being in films, and I love doing television, but that is not where I live. I live in the theater.”

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