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60 Seconds With . . . Mandy Patinkin

January 31, 2008|Elina Shatkin

"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Two decades later, Mandy Patinkin still relishes what is probably the most iconic role of his acting career, the swashbuckler in "The Princess Bride." Classically trained as an actor, Patinkin, 55, has also spent over 20 years as an accomplished singer. He brings his smorgasbord of Broadway classics and Yiddish folk tunes to the Kodak Theatre Saturday at 8 p.m.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO YIDDISH MUSIC?

Joe Papp [the late founder of New York's Public Theater] called me one day and asked if I'd do a song for the YIVO Institute [for Jewish Research]. I said I didn't know any Yiddish songs. He said, "It's about time you learned one." This is my heritage's almost lost language, and it's my job to keep passing along the melodies and stories. I always do at least one Yiddish song wherever I go. Even if my audience is in the "Redneck Riviera."

THE REDNECK RIVIERA?

Years ago I asked [someone who was driving me to a show], "Is there a large Jewish population here?" It was major KKK country and he said, "You don't know where you are, do you, boy? Ain't no Jewish people here. This here's the 'Redneck Riviera.' " I put in more Yiddish songs than I think I've ever done anywhere. People loved it. The less Jewish the audience, the more response the [Yiddish songs] get.

OF ALL THE STANDARDS, WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE?

I love everything Steve Sondheim does. He writes to the core of my being. But if I had to choose one song, I would say "Over the Rainbow" by Yip Harburg [and Harold Arlen]. It's one of the most amazing pieces I've ever encountered. I recently played Omaha, Neb., the day after the mall shooting. For most people it was the first time they'd been out in a gathering [since the tragedy]. I didn't know what to do. The whole community was in mourning. I wanted to entertain people and get them away from it all. I sang "Over the Rainbow" and it became the perfect prayer and good wish for everyone.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR NICKNAME, MANDY 'THE BATTLESHIP' PATINKIN?

I love it!

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-- Elina.Shatkin @latimes.com

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