Mandy’s new year

Having finished filming the eighth and final season of Showtime’s Homeland, Mandy Patinkin is hitting the concert trail again with a new show, Diaries, which he will perform at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven on Jan. 25. It was a chance to ask the Tony and Emmy award-winning actor-singer what excites him about the current Broadway scene. After all, it’s been 40 years since the groundbreaking hit Evita, which launched his career into the big time.

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Mandy Patinkin brings his new concert show Diaries to the Shubert Theatre in New Haven on Jan. 25.

“I’m fascinated by groundbreaking thinking, like in shows such as Hamilton,” he tells me from his Manhattan home, shortly after finishing his first few concert dates. “I’m always deeply moved and overwhelmed by those who have the gift to reinvent the art form that I love.”

Patinkin says his concert and recording life allows him to have a varied career, from TV shows like Chicago HopeDead Like Me and Criminal Minds, films like The Princess Bride and Yentl, and musicals like Sunday in the Park with George that made him famous.

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“I can do these [songs from musicals] out of context and make it part of my concerts, so I’m never away from it completely. And I’m always reaching toward people like [touring musical director] Adam Ben-David and others in terms of connecting me to the Broadway world. Then there’s [recording music director] Thomas Bartlett, who suggests singer-songwriters to me that speak to me lyrically. I just love things that are new and groundbreaking and show us new ways of looking at things.”

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Cher and Cher Alike

The first time Stephanie J. Block had the opportunity to meet Cher in person, she ran and hid.

That might strike some as odd since Block eventually went on to earn a Tony Award for playing the legendary singer — well, one of the three “Chers,” the more mature one — in Broadway’s The Cher Show last season.

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Stephanie J. Block and Cher perform during the curtain call of the opening night of The Cher Show at Neil Simon Theatre in New York City. 

It was the fall of 2017 and the new musical was being presented to Cher for her approval before heading to Chicago.

“She came to this presentation with about 12 or 15 of her friends and she wanted to meet the cast before we performed for her,” Block says. “I just felt [like] if I was going to adequately perform Cher for Cher I needed to not be shaken and needed to stay the course that I had rehearsed for weeks, so I hid. But the producer came up and I had been summoned specifically to meet her so I came downstairs and she was — remarkable.

“She was protected in the sense that she had this big velvet fedora/sombrero hat on. She had reflective aviator sunglasses on, too, so you couldn’t really see the whites of her eyes — or her emotions. But her handshake and hug were firm yet gentle, and she certainly gave me all the words I wanted to hear. She told me as an artist she knew how vulnerable I was and she understood that I was there to honor her and the material and she thanked me for that. She was lovely.”

Naturally, Block will be singing a few songs from the Broadway show when she performs in concert Jan. 31 at the Ridgefield Playhouse.

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Stephanie J. Block takes a bow during the opening night curtain call of The Cher Show.

“I saw a lot of different shades of Cher during the run,” Block says. “We saw Cher nervous, we saw her disappointed, and we saw her triumphant.” The Broadway run ended earlier this year, having played eight months.

“She really didn’t befriend me until we were in previews for a few weeks. That’s when she came in and sat with me in my dressing room for about 45 minutes and she shared a lot of secrets that would help me fuel my portrayal of her without the audience having to know any of that stuff. She really opened up for me and I was able to tell her where my own journey led me. Once she knew a little bit more about me then we could just sit on my couch as women and as actresses and it was really beautiful. Since then I still get text messages and emails and loving emojis so it’s been a really nice build of a relationship between Cher and I.”

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Sun rises again

The last time Nilaja Sun performed in Connecticut was in her solo show No Child… in which she told tales from her experiences as a teaching artist in the New York City school system. This time out, Sun’s solo story is closer to home. The writer-actor will bring her acclaimed solo show Pike Street to Hartford Stage Jan. 9 to Feb. 2.

“This is a bit of a love letter to my hometown — the Lower East Side of New York City, just under the Manhattan Bridge. That area is quite diverse. It’s near Chinatown so we have a great influence of Chinese-Americans, Eastern Europeans, Jewish folks, Muslims, Yemeni, a wonderful gay culture, too. There’s a taste of the entire world there. It has everything, except maybe Australians.”

Sun, who had a returning role as Juliet in TV’s Madam Secretary, says her show was inspired by the days that Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and her neighborhood was “in one of those low-lying areas of Manhattan so we had no running water or electricity. Neighbors really had to help neighbors. And the play shows us at our best, worst and craziest. I really wanted to honor all of those neighbors in cities and towns where bad things happen. That’s when people really lend a hand to one another.”

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Growth spurt

Goodspeed is the place where musicals are often nurtured, so it makes sense that Grow will have a staged presentation as part of Goodspeed’s Festival of New Musicals, which runs Jan. 17-19 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. (Grow will be presented Jan. 19 at 1 p.m.)

Composer Colleen Dauncey and lyricist Akiva Romer-Segal worked on an earlier show at Goodspeed’s Mercer Writers Colony retreat in 2018. But for Grow they turned to a tradition of the Amish called “rumspringa,” which is the period when Amish youth spend a year out in the non-Amish world.

“Our story is about twin Amish girls about to turn 19,” Dauncey says.

“A coming-of-age story is something everyone can relate to,” Romer-Segal says, “but ours is an extreme example of it. In the end it’s a matter of choice for both of them.”

The composing team have been friends since high school drama club in Calgary. “In a way, the twins are like us. We’ve been exploring the world together for years and I feel, like the twins, we’re always figuring out things together, even when we’re apart.”

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This article appeared in the January 2020 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.