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Manilow on Broadway
He got his first laugh following his "Give My Regards to Broadway" opening saying, "It wasn't the flu part, it was the Jewish guilt part." He, nevertheless, added jokingly a little later into his repertoire, the unnecessary apology, "Here are more songs I'd like to croak for you."
One might easily chalk up Manilow's slightly raspy voice to the way sound is also manufactured these days , call it "tunnel voice" — perhaps a companion accessory to "tunnel vision." But this is coming from ears that also remember the incredibly gifted Manilow from his peak years when his voice was purer and amplified sound not a barrier to the singer's soul.
But first, this is how I became a fan and an admirer. It was near curtain time early in December 1973 and my wife and I just happened to be passing the Palace Theater (believe that!) when a poster grabbed our attention, a sketch of the up-and-coming super star Bette Midler who was beginning a limited but sold-out run in "her concert debut" Bette Midler at the Palace.
While we had yet to become fans, we couldn't resist the lure of the sketch of the gloriously tacky cum divine diva, and pushed our way to the box office to see if there was any chance of getting last-minute seats. Miraculously, we did, and if you know the Palace Theater, we lucked out with the best location, in a lower box just slightly raised above the orchestra level. Sure, Midler was unforgettable "trash with flash" that the audience adored; but also a revelation was Manilow the exuberant and slim young man who was her musical director at the piano down stage left. He used his chance to step out of her shadow and usher in a new phase of his amazing career.
Manilow shares a few disarming stories of growing up in the toughest section of Brooklyn and the love he has for his grandfather ("This One's For You"). However, he never mentions Midler with whom he has had a long off and on-again business and recording relationship. Changing twice from black sharkskin to a hot pink jacket to a white suit, he looked spiffy but not quite as dazzling as he looked in a video of him in a glitter-encrusted white jacket playing piano and singing on a 1975 TV show.
Manilow, who appeared on Broadway at the Gershwin Theater in 1989, received a special Tony Award for his concert appearance in 1977. His return to Broadway after a little more than twenty five years is again honored by the renaming of the corner of 44th Street as Barry Manilow Way. Further down the street is the St. James Theater where this iconic singer-composer-producer is presenting a version of the show he has been performing in such venues as the Las Vegas Hilton and at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
Among the last of the honest-to-goodness crooners, Manilow, with his spiky, youthful haircut and a lovable face however stretched to near immobility by plastic surgery, still conveys that deliberately home-spun, unassuming, not-quite-polished personality and look that has endeared him to the public over the years. The flashy light-show and the blaring medley by the on-stage band split into two sections behind see-through partitions have more to do with Las Vegas than Broadway.
Apparently the hip surgery he had two years ago is not a major obstacle to the way he moves. He even does a he Conga with the support of his two terrific back-up singers Kye Brackett and Sharon Hendrix. He goes seamlessly through almost two dozen songs some at the keyboard and some at the piano.
The audience truly loved and was, indeed, encouraged to sing along with him such classics as "Can't Smile Without You," "I Write the Songs," and "Copacabana." He instilled a genuine poignancy to such enduring ballads as "Looks Like We Made It," "Somewhere in the Night," "I Made It Through the Rain "and," When October Comes" (lyrics by Johnny Mercer). He also juics up the set with the raucous "Bandstand," and "Brooklyn Blues," "New York City Rhythm," as well as with a tribute to songs from the 1960s ("Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," and "I Love You Baby").
The "I Love You Baby" drove a certain segment of the audience to a near frenzy. There was no stopping many who were previously seated in the orchestra from dancing in the aisles. The big revelation for me, however, was a lovely ballad from his yet-to-be-produced-in-New York musical Harmony. I assume it may have book trouble. But what a revelation it would be to have a new musical on Broadway with real melodies.
As a yet-to-be-surpassed purveyor of melodic songs written from the heart, Barry Manilow undoubtedly means it when he sings to us, "I"ll love you every single day from now on." ("Every Single Day"). That love was sent back by an enraptured audience many of whom could identify with his song "Looks Like We Made It."
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