|photo by Armando Brown|
Barry Manilow is a consummate showman, with a style few performers can match.
Friday night I finally had an opportunity to see him live and it was easy to see why the veteran singer-songwriter has remained such a steady concert draw, especially during extended runs in Las Vegas (at Paris and Hilton Hotel & Casinos) and more recently New York City, where he made a long-awaited return to Broadway.
For many people of a certain age and mindset, Manilow's catalog is synonymous with comfort and romance. His 90-minute gig at the Greek Theatre, his first of three nights at the L.A. landmark, possessed both those qualities. A dance remix medley of past hits served as an introduction while concertgoers waved glow sticks like they were waiting for an EDM artist.
Then Manilow appeared front and center for traditional show-launcher "It's a Miracle"; that buoyant tune and "Could It Be Magic" were pure disco. The vocal sound mix seemed muted, yet he wasn't overwhelmed by his nine-piece backing band.
The set didn't include anything from Manilow's impressive 2011 concept album 15 Minutes and only one selection from his Greatest Songs of the '50s-'80s series, Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." But few could complain about the steady stream of adult contemporary hits.
I expected rabid followers, aka "Fanilows," might be crazier here, though in the orchestra seating area most attendees just provided polite applause and only a small fraction stood up during up-tempo numbers. A couple gals in the aisle across from me giggled, seemingly nonstop; maybe they were drunk, overly excited to be there or not paying attention.
(Speaking of humor, opening act Jake Johannsen delivered one of the best comedy routines I've seen in a while.)
"Somewhere in the Night," appended with "Looks Like We Made It," remains a beautiful ballad, while the sing-along "Can't Smile Without You" had a yellow '70s "have a nice day" smiley face projected on the backdrop. Fortunately, an audience member wasn't pulled up to act as duet partner, as was common during past tours.
Often, as with "Even Now" and "This One's for You," Manilow would start a song at the keyboard or grand piano but leave his instrument to give soaring vocal notes more dramatic heft, arms outstretched. "Every Single Day," from his musical Harmony (it returns next spring to play the Ahmanson), was another showstopper.
The swinging "Bandstand Boogie" featured a video clip of his appearance on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, for which it provided the theme. A jaunty "Brooklyn Blues" was prefaced by an anecdote about growing up in Brooklyn and given a smooth, soulful vibe, courtesy of two backing vocalists.
With typically self-deprecating humor, Manilow poked fun at his old album covers, admitted how some songs served as aural Viagra ("Weekend in New England") or were extremely bleak ("Lay Me Down"). Comparing his '70s success to Justin Bieber's current popularity was odd (Manilow was hardly a teenager at the time), though another reference to the Canadian wonder boy was closer to the mark: "These days, if you get a bad lyric, you get a No. 1 record. Baby, baby."
Before the hushed delivery of "I Am Your Child," Manilow related how music changed his life as a kid to his project that donates instruments to schools. After which "Copacabana" proved festive, while "I Write the Songs" was infused with added drama. And despite knowing that "Mandy" has long begun with footage from Manilow's 1975 appearance on NBC's The Midnight Special, before the real thing joins in the second verse, seeing it done live was still exciting.
Elsewhere, "Tryin' to Get the Feeling," "I Made It Through the Rain" (first verse sans accompaniment) and another Valli composition, a spirited "Let's Hang On," were highlights. All told, Manilow remains in robust vocal form and, whether direct from Broadway or not, still puts on shows that appeal to a cross-section of ages.