Barry Manilow’s current roadshow, which ends its successful U.S. leg at Universal as the No. 17 grossing tour of the year, is a stripped-down affair compared to his previous big-show productions, designed to focus on the musician and his songs. And in that limited respect, the concert was a success, covering many of the better tunes from Manilow’s 29 albums over more than two hours.
This two-part show, the first of four appearances at the Amphitheatre that ends with a New Year’s Eve perf, started rather deliberately, as Manilow, playing his first L.A. show since a Universal run four year ago, appeared during the peppy “Daybreak” to have a case of first-night jitters. Dapper in a sharp gray suit, the youthful Manilow joked about his age (he’s 51, not 30 as he claimed) and disingenuously called himself the “Jewish Fabio.” But it took the better part of the show’s first half before he truly loosened up and began connecting with the crowd.
What’s become known as his “Commercials Medley” finally seemed to invigorate the tentative Manilow (who earlier this month canceled a show because of laryngitis), as well as awaken the sleepy audience, which was having a hard time even clapping in unison until then. The idea of singing and cheering along to State Farm and McDonalds theme songs — among many others, which Manilow has written — may sound ludicrous, but in this setting it made perfect sense and was infectious fun. Oddly, Manilow said that was the portion of the show usually faulted by critics; it was the definite highlight this night.
The show was divided between material from his recent “Summer of ’78” album (Arista) of soft-rock cover songs, and such Barry originals as “Mandy,” “Weekend in New England” and the too-peppy “Copacabana,” one of the titles continually shouted by audience members. One such member, Beverly, a graying lady who said she came from Connecticut, was brought onstage to duet with Manilow — now dressed in an emerald green suit — on his 1978 hit “Can’t Smile Without You.” Later, the very-smiling Beverly was given a video recording of her few minutes of glory.
The man still (admittedly) can’t dance, and he’s not that skilled of a showman, so it was when he just sat at one of his keyboards and sang ballads — such as the charming “Studio Musician,” which he dedicated to all the people he’s worked with — that he was most effective.
Fans were also given the opportunity to choose some of the evening’s material by way of a remote control clicker that, when used, highlighted one of Manilow’s many albums on a video roulette wheel that was projected on the back of the stage. The random choice of his 1977 album “This One’s for You,” for example, yielded “Looks Like We Made It” and “All the Time.” Pieces by Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller were selected from his “Plays With the Big Bands” when that album was landed on. Many of the tunes were accompanied by anecdotal comments about their recordings.