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Master of Musical Styles

Mandy Patinkin delivers catchy extracts; other New York shows offer tragi-comedy, lampoon. THEATER: REVIEWS

MANDY PATINKIN IN CONCERT: DRESS CASUAL Song recital by Mr. Patinkin at the Helen Hayes Theatre. Paul Ford on piano. Through Aug. 19. THE new entertainment at the Helen Hayes, `Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Dress Casual'' fulfills its title punctiliously. Appearing on an almost bare stage, clad in T-shirt and black slacks, Mr. Patinkin makes a virtue of informality as he demonstrates mastery of assorted musical styles and trends from the 1890s to the 1980s. The ingratiating singer-actor ranges the scales as he revels in extracts from the American musical comedy and pop song repertory.

The mood, like the program, is subject to change. But the star and Paul Ford, his intuitive piano accompanist-collaborator, create a collage that reflects a melodic and lyric rainbow - literally as well as metaphorically. In addition to his own wistful interpretation of the Arlen-Haburg ``Over the Rainbow,'' Patinkin includes Al Jolson, Billy Rose, and Dave Dreyer's ``There's a Rainbow `Round My Shoulder'' in a `` Happy Medley'' that features, among others, Berlin, Gershwin, and Sondheim.

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Stephen Sondheim figures recurrently in the recital, although Patinkin doesn't include numbers from any of the Broadway shows in which he has appeared (``Sunday in the Park With George'' among them), he pays homage to Sondheim with two exquisite excerpts from ``Into the Woods'' and includes ``Buddy's Blues'' from ``Company'' in the ``Happy Medley.'' There are also a ``Casey Medley'' from familiar and less familiar sources and a ``Pal Joey Medley,'' in which the star does a brief summary-in-song of the 1940 Rodgers-Hammerstein classic.

Patinkin bestows his performer's art on such old-timey favorites as ``Doodle Doo Doo,'' which opens the evening, ``When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbing Along,'' ``On the Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe,'' ``Pennies from Heaven,'' and ``I'll Be Seeing You.'' (He is as meticulous with the words as with the melody.) Occasionally, the material inspires him to a comic vaudeville sketch. The Fitzgerald-Feldman ``A Tisket a Tasket'' sparks a mini-production number, replete with bull-horn police siren and cop-on-the-beat interrogation,'' while Kander and Ebb's ``Coffee in a Cardboard Cup'' becomes a veritable short-order cacophony by the time Patinkin finishes with it.

For tongue twisters, there are Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's ``Tschaikowsky'' and Sondheim's ``You Could Drive a Person Crazy.'' For the big emotional climax, there is Rodgers and Hammerstein's ``Soliloquy'' from ``Carousel.'' Patinkin responds to the conflicting emotions of Billy Bigelow's aria before reaching a climax that becomes a cry of desperation as well as of defiance. It is a tour de force.

Playgoers who don't make it to the Helen Hayes for the limited engagement (through Aug. 19) can enjoy a generous sample, plus other works from the Patinkin repertoire, in CBS's splendid recording, with superb orchestral accompaniment led by Paul Gemignani. But as live performance, Mandy Patinkin's dress-casual concert is something special. The only thing missing is a Playbill acknowledgement of the composers and lyricists who have contributed to the occasion.

THE PIXIE LED Play by Christopher Harris. Union 212 production directed by Julian Richards. At the Judith Anderson Theatre through Aug. 12.

UNION 212, a British company seeking to establish a link between the London Fringe and Off Broadway, makes its New York debut at the Judith Anderson Theatre with ``The Pixie Led.'' Borrowing casually from Nikolai Gogol (``Diary of a Madman'' and ``The Nose''), playwright Christopher Harris dramatizes the fantasies of three inmates of Bedlam in the Victorian London of the 1850s. In this harsh and cruel setting - realized in depressingly cluttered detail by set designers Michael T. Roberts and John Pope - the unfortunate ``pixie led'' characters spin out a phantasmagoria of past histories and present indignities.

Asserting his rule over this disordered state, the elderly King (John Wylie) acquaints the Clerk (Steven Crossley) with his plans to mount the Spanish throne. The King confides that he intends making the Concubine (Amanda Boxer) his queen and orders the compliant Clerk to do the wooing. The resultant confusion adds one more odd patch to Mr. Harris's crazy-quilt plot. An incidental matter concerns the Clerk's military doll, Kovolyov, whose nose is missing.

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Under the direction of Julian Richards, the Union 212 cast plays out the tragi-comedy with a straightforwardness that responds to the rational irrationality of the mildly bent characters while yet respecting their underlying humanity. The dialogue affects a kind of mannered Victorianism intermixed with gutter crudity, a contrast which Harris employs for both irony and broad comedy. Whatever the overall intent, ``The Pixie Led'' never manages to escape from its impenetrable bleakness. Tim Heywood designed the thrift-shop costumery, Clifton Taylor the dim lighting.

THE LADY IN QUESTION Play by Charles Busch. Directed by Kenneth Elliott. Starring Mr. Busch. At the Orpheum Theatre.

THE LADY IN QUESTION,'' the lampoon melodrama stars actor-author Charles Busch as the lady of the title. One of the originators of the Theatre-in-Limbo's brand of campy, cross-dressing farce, Mr. Busch turns parody to new purposes in his latest comic creation. He plays glamorous Gertrude Garnet, a touring American pianist who matches wits and wiles with a nest of nasty Nazis in the year before the United States entered World War II. Taking his cues from a catalog of stereotyped Hollywood wartime melodramas, Busch spoofs the corny heroics of the genre while playing a fairly successful game of suspense with the audience.

Gertrude (whom the playwright has said is patterned on a combination of Norma Shearer and Greer Garson) has landed in the Bavarian Alps for a concert engagement. Notwithstanding her grand manner, she is an ex-vaudevillian from Brooklyn, a fact of which she is snappishly reminded by her comic sidekick Kitty, the Countess of Borgia (Julie Halston).

When Kitty mysteriously disappears, Gertrude begins to suspect that guesting at Baron Von Elsner's (Kenneth Elliott) schloss isn't as gem"utlich as advertised. The lady in question also becomes involved in aiding the escape of a German actress who has appeared in an anti-Nazi play - a beau geste the author employs for purposes of high tension and hilarity.

With Busch's star impersonation to set the tone and with several cast members doubling nimbly, the actors directed by Mr. Elliott meet the mock heroic requirements of the melodrama. Besides those mentioned, the cast includes Arni Kolodner, Meghan Robinson, Theresa Marlowe, Robert Carey, Mark Hamilton, and Andy Halliday. The production was designed by B.T. Whitehall (setting), Robert Locke and Jennifer Arnold (costumes), Vivien Leone (lighting), and Elizabeth Katherine Carr (wigs).

Our Aug. 8 review of ``Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Dress Casual'' should have attributed ``Pal Joey'' to composers Rodgers and Hart, not Rodgers and Hammerstein. It also should have identified ``Buddy's Blues'' with Stephen Sondheim's ``Follies'' not ``Company.''

Apologies to all concerned.

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