"Out and About. Michael Barnes. How may I help you?"
"This is Mandy Patinkin calling for Susannah Jacob."
"I'm sorry, there's no Susannah Jacob here." (Pause.) "Are you by any chance calling about an interview?"
It was sheer luck. I was at my newsroom desk on a Sunday afternoon, working on a wrap-up of our South by Southwest coverage. Otherwise, I would have missed a chance to chat with one of Broadway's most influential performers.
Due to a snafu among publicists — and, again, luck — I stole Jacob's interview position. (The Daily Texan reporter earned a redo on Monday.) Otherwise, I also wouldn't have this opportunity to spread the word about Patinkin's double-headliner concert today at the Long Center with another powerhouse performer, Patti LuPone.
"I've looked into her eyes for 30 years," Patinkin says of LuPone. "And I see 30 years of trust."
LuPone and Patinkin rocketed to stardom in the same show, "Evita," which electrified Broadway audiences in 1979, and won 1980 Tony Awards for both of them. The actors — one playing the monumentally ambitious Eva Perón, the other a inflammatory narrator fictionalized as revolutionary leader Che — combined intense emotional presences with highly controlled, yet unfettered theatricality. It was as if, in one show, an entirely new style of Broadway acting was invented.
LuPone went on to become one of the age's great divas in hits such as "Les Misérables," "Anything Goes," "Sweeney Todd," "Master Class," "Sunset Boulevard" and "Gypsy." Patinkin continued in "The Secret Garden," "Sunday in the Park with George," "Falsettos" and "The Wild Party" and other shows. Meanwhile, they interspersed stage appearances with memorable forays into film ("Princess Bride" for him, "Witness" for her) and television ("Chicago Hope" for him, "LBJ" for her).
Closer to Austin, both have delivered ecstatically received solo concerts at the Paramount Theatre — Patinkin on several occasions — when Paul Beutel was that venue's managing director. Now at the Long Center, Beutel has booked the dynamos for what Patinkin calls "The Patti and Mandy Show," first conceived for the opening of a theater in Richardson two years ago.
"We didn't want to do 20 minutes of her, 20 minutes of me," Patinkin recalls. "So we got together with my longtime musical director, Paul Ford, to create a show with a story and a structure. It's the figurative journey of two souls told in words and songs."
Each star dipped into their repertoires — they are famous for investing familiar standards with new meaning — then searched for the connective tissues. Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim — not surprisingly — are among the main composers used for the show, which also includes songs by Vernon Duke and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Each song is crafted into an emotional scene, acted, not just sung in a cabaret style. Ann Reinking, herself a Broadway star, choreographed the show, and Ford accompanies the singers. The duo has toured the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia with the act.
"We have a blast," Patinkin says. "And, if anything, we've gotten younger. It's the gold of life to me."
Listening to his voice over the phone, as he waited for a flight from Los Angeles to Albuquerque, N.M., to visit his offspring, the New York-based Patinkin indeed sounded younger than in our previous conversations, spread out over 20 years. Earlier, he was wary, tense, perhaps concerned about conveying artistic integrity. Sunday, he had turned breezy, sweet, almost philosophical.
"When I get to Austin, we'll go onstage and walk away from the world," he says. "We invite audiences to walk away with us."
On his ongoing collaboration with LuPone, one of the few performers alive who could match his interpretive intensity, he says: "This is what we can do until we are dead."
An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
When: 8 Thursday, March 25
Where: Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive