With no new album to push, Barry Manilow is touring with what he calls his “Greatest Hits” package. The two-hour show is wall-to-wall bestsellers with one odd but effective digression; it’s Manilow for those who will never tire of hearing him sing “I Write the Songs” one more time.
Manilow’s fan base has stuck with him through slings from naysayers for years , something the singer was quick to acknowledge Monday night. (Entertainment Weekly recently declared him “hip again,” which must have come as a surprise to those fans who have filled arenas for multiple-night runs for well over a decade).
Not having to feature new material, Manilow is able to dust off some of the good ol’ good ones that he hasn’t been featuring, among them “Somewhere Down the Road” from 1981, 1976’s “This One’s for You,” and “I Am Your Child” from his 1974 debut album, revived last year for his guest appearance on “Murphy Brown.”
Arrangements were kept pretty much the same as those on the original records, with three keyboard players filling in the “string” and “horn” parts while Manilow played acoustic grand piano. Exceptions were the ballad “Could It Be Magic,” refurbished in a retro-disco version featuring backup singers Billy Kidd and Gina Taylor along with Manilow and inspired by an arrangement by the English group Take That! that won enough crowd acclaim to warrant a single release; and an intimate, stripped-down “Somewhere Down the Road.”
(Third backup singer, Debra Byrd, was featured in two songs from the 1979 Manilow-produced Dionne Warwick album –“Deja Vu” and “I’ll Never Love This Way Again”).
A segment featuring material from a possible future recording project was surprising and slightly out-of-place — though effective and well-received. It included Glenn Miller’s “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross version of Count Basie’s signature “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” along with Manilow’s own “Bandstand Boogie.”
On the other hand, some of his rockier hits were retired to make room for the mushy ballads that Manilow’s fans seem to favor. No “Let’s Hang On” this time, no reference to his foray into rockabilly, “Oh, Julie”; not even Manilow’s 1983 hit rendition of Jim Steinman’s “Read ‘Em and Weep,” originally recorded by the now-hot Meat Loaf.
And yes, he’s still bringing up a member of the audience to sing “Can’t Smile Without You” with him and presenting her with a videotape of the event afterward. It’s still a highlight of the show.
Manilow maintains an informal stage presence that endears him to his fans; occasional four-letter words and an odd reference to incontinence pass as naughty; even Rev. Donald Wildmon would probably accept them in this context.