"This One's for You!"
As this is a concert review and not a therapy session, I won’t go on about how tough it was growing up around Nashville and singing “Mandy” as I rode the bus to school. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. Even here in California, I have turned the radio off at a traffic light so the Harleys lining up next to me wouldn’t see me bopping around to “Copacabana.”
But after last night at The Hollywood Bowl, powerfully accompanied by the majestic LA Philharmonic Orchestra, my love for all things Manilow is out of the closet. I’m now and forever a Mani-Fan! From his energetic leadoff, “It’s A Miracle,” when Manilow took the stage, he could have just as easily stepped out of Marty McFly’s DeLorean straight from 1985. He looked phenomenal for a singer who released his debut album in 1821, as he joked. But to talk too much about how Manilow looked — which was great — wouldn’t allow me to tell you how the man sounded — which was incredible.
Love him or not, one has to admit that Barry Manilow is a natural-born showman. After spending an unprecedented 40 years at the top of the pop music charts, this multi-talented producer, arranger, musician, composer, singer and performer has succeeded with albums focused on 50’s jazz, techno-jazz, big band swing, show tunes, Sinatra swing, the Great American Songbook, Christmas music, and a rock ‘n’ roll album. It makes one’s head spin. No wonder Rolling Stone dubbed him “The Showman of Our Generation.”
The opening act for Barry Manilow was his childhood friend, the amazing Lorna Luft, whose upbringing could hardly have been more star-struck. Born to the legendary Judy Garland and her film producer husband, Sid Luft, Lorna had the entertainment business in her blood. And as if to confirm that showbiz royalty, her godfather was none other than Frank Sinatra.
Lorna made her Broadway debut at four years old in the show “Promises, Promises,” written by Neil Simon. Then in 1981, she was cast for an American tour of “They’re Playing Our Song.” The following year saw her big-screen debut in “Grease 2” alongside Michelle Pfeiffer, and also appeared opposite Farrah Fawcett in the tough drama “Extremities.”
She was Miss Adelaide in a U.S. and world tour of “Guys and Dolls that ran for nearly two years, and more recently has been a regular performer in the U.K., Ireland, and the U.S. in the classic,“White Christmas.” Lorna also maintains a concert career with huge critical acclaim, appearing at such prestigious venues as the London Palladium, Madison Square Gardens and even Carnegie Hall, with little evidence of her ever giving up on what she calls “the family business.” But then, with showbiz in her blood, that probably shouldn’t come as any surprise.
And at 76, in a two-day-only show of giddy flamboyance, it’s no surprise that the legendary Barry Manilow, also showing no sign of age, attracted an overflow crowd at the massive Hollywood Bowl on Saturday night, perhaps even bigger than his Friday night performance.
As a singer-songwriter with an uncanny ear for a melodic hook who got his start as a commercial jingle writer, Manilow has been a Top 40 mainstay since the mid-'70s and has retained one of the most loyal and passionate fan bases of any genre.
With worldwide sales of more than 85 million, 50 Top 40 hits and 15 Grammy nominations, Barry Manilow’s success is a benchmark in popular music. His concerts sell out instantly. He is ranked as the top Adult Contemporary chart artist of all time, according to Radio & Records and Billboard Magazines. "Among the few things one can count on in life are, the taste of McDonald's cheeseburgers, ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns still being funny, and Barry Manilow never wearing out his welcome at the top of the charts." — Billboard Magazine.
One of the most poignant songs of the evening was "This One's for You," which he dedicated to his late grandfather, who recognized that Manilow was talented even from a young age. The raw, emotive lyrics to this well-crafted tune symbolizing himself and his supportive grandfather in tribute, left the audience spellbound.
Memorable numbers like "Ready to Take a Chance Again," "When Will I Hold You Again," "I Write the Songs," and "Looks like We Made It" were all expressive and powerful performances. Another audience favorite, "Can't Smile Without You," seduced thousands of green glow sticks to light up and wave in the air, breaking the opacity in this vast open venue, while the doting crowd sang to the lyrics in Karaoke-style.
Manilow opened up about his roots, growing up in Brooklyn, New York. While these days, Brooklyn may be more on the "fancier" side, he noted that in his youth, it was more of a slum and his family struggled. "Brooklyn Blues" was written about his tough childhood upbringing and still one place that keeps him grounded and humble.
Seemingly, with no breaks in the show, Manilow bounded around the stage, singing and dancing as if he were a 20-year old. Nothing seemed to slow him down. Not only accompanied by the LA Philharmonic, bringing an unbelievable depth and quality to his songs, his regular 10-piece band was tucked nicely on the side, filling those special notes only they can do. Ensemble backup singer/dancers were Kye Brackett, Sharon Hendrix and Melanie Taylor, and augmented the show’s jazzy sounds and choreography. “You know, I really didn't think we were going to be back here,” he told the tightly packed Hollywood Bowl of about 18,000. “But I'm so glad we are.”
Manilow also nailed one of my personal favorites, “Weekend in New England,” admitting to the crowd that the song was so romantic that it even got to him. “I was turning myself on back there!” he quipped. Then after an hour or more of ceaseless romantic crooning, Manilow walked off the stage, only to return moments later in a shiny leather jacket, only one of several flashy costume jacket changes during the evening.
He earned one of many roaring ovations on “I Made It through The Rain,” saying, “Here’s one of my favorites about a four letter word — hope,” before launching into a breathtaking a cappella intro. Other highlights included his signature hit, “Mandy,” which I will admit, got me a little misty. In fact, the entire set was absolute and flawless, matching every note from his albums exactly. I don’t know many singers in their prime who could nail every note like that. Manilow is definitely one of them. He’s lost none of his range, power, or vigor over the last four decades.
And just when we thought he was done, after repeated encores of course, Manilow bounds back exclaiming “Does anyone want to hear Copacabana?” As he launched into one of his best freestyle versions, bolstered and backed up by one of our own national superstar groups, the Los Alamitos High School Choir, decked in dark blue choir robes, I was right there with him on every note. As the song closed the show, confetti and streamers filled the sky and a deafening audience roared with delight. Giving a final wave and a smile, he left us as he came to us — on our feet and screaming his name.
What a show! I do know of at least one person that was completely changed from this up close and personal experience…me! In confident defiance, this Mani-Fan is ready to crank “Copacabana” at full volume from now on with the windows open for my usual drive-time home.
The Show Report