My wife has been pestering me for the last few months to take her to see Barry Manilow. I have been resisting her for many different reasons. Having been a musician seeking work in the recession era of the mid-70s, and experiencing the repercussions of the disco era disc jockeys that put many a musician out of work, I had a little bit of bitterness at just the sound of his name. It’s not that I didn’t listen to the songs, I just had a bad attitude towards any of the popular music of that time. Give me the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, and The Band anytime. After all, that was the era that produced the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie starring the BeeGees-how much more sacrilegious can you get? Having spoken to other people who had seen the show, I was aware that, not only was it entertaining, but that many people went back a second and a third time and that Mr. Manilow had to rotate his musical selections to accommodate that. Not many shows in Vegas have that repeatability factor so I was a little impressed. I broke down and bought tickets for my wife’s birthday and then had to endure the ridicule of my brother a former metalhead 10 years younger than I.
The crowd became restless when the preshow music repeated itself 15 minutes after the show was scheduled to open. We were directly in front of the soundboard and there was some hubbub related to the show’s late opening. Finally the lights dimmed and the show went on. His voice seemed a little off key and scratchy which is not unusual for a singer in Las Vegas. Due to the very low humidity and dryness “Vegas throat” can strike at any time. His band consisted of three very multi-talented and beautiful female dancers/backup singers and one equally talented male, three keyboard players, a more than adequate horn section, and a very tight rhythm section that replicated those pulsing sweaty disco beats that brought a bevy of inebriated John Travolta wannabes to the wooden parquet dance floors as part of the mating call rituals of the late 70s. Not having heard these songs in over 25 years I was able to judge them without prejudice and indeed I was extremely impressed at Mr. Manilow’s arrangements and especially the complexity of each song’s developmental middle sections. The little Jewish boy from Brooklyn really did a monumental job of taking influences from jazz and the big band era and infusing them into sugary teenage love ballads that struck a chord and delivered to him the most of commercial success. For that he should be given his due, and the passion that he evokes from his audiences cannot be ignored. He IS “Music and Passion” as is aptly the name of this production. There are film clips and an audio piece of a recording from his childhood that plays into a wonderful true story of how Mr. Manilow began his travels on a path to stardom. Overall, the music was more than entertaining, it brought you back to a time of innocence a time when you shook your thing (as he did more than once calling himself “a boney ass”), did not worry about tomorrow, and merged with the flashing lights and disco ball’s splintered starlight and didn’t worry about what it all meant.
As he warmed up his voice got stronger and stronger as each song demanded more and more of his upper register, something I do believe was preplanned and smartly executed, as age begins to diminish one’s vocal range. He performed everything that one would expect him to perform and delved into some Motown and other 60’s songs that were most entertaining. The grande finale was of course Copacabana and a giant steel staircase with a huge disco ball dropped from the ceiling and he danced and cavorted with his fellow singers and mimicked the bygone era of disco.
Objectively, I must admit I was fascinated listening to his arrangements and the complexities of this man’s music. He was indeed the king of the pop ballad back then and he deserves his due. And as much as I despise that whole era of mindless music, his music is anything but mindless. His words may appeal to the heartstrings of female adolescence, but so did that of the Beatles in the very beginning of their careers. Yes, I have to admit it, I thoroughly enjoyed the show and would highly recommend it. That, in itself shows you how much I’ve matured as well. No hard feelings Barry, you indeed were the man who wrote the songs and lived your dreams.