“Manilow: An Evening of Music and Passion” is the road show version of the singer’s successful Vegas revue (which recently had its run at the Las Vegas Hilton extended through 2009), but the opening moments felt more like the prelude to a prizefight than a concert. Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now” blared through the arena, as the covers of Manilow’s albums flipped by on the giant videoscreen, the music and lights building steadily until the risers onstage parted to reveal the star of the show in silhouette.
Once this intro ended, Manilow took his place centerstage singing “It’s a Miracle,” and the 90-minute show settled into its (relatively) understated tone. For all the Vegas glitz and fanfare, his show might just be the most self-effacing star turn around. It’s not so much that he’s shy about his career — the evening was studded with references to his successes, including clips of his debut appearances on “American Bandstand” and “Midnight Special” (introduced on the latter by Clive Davis) — but Manilow still comes off as a regular guy from Brooklyn who still can’t believe his luck.
The hydraulics at the lip of the stage didn’t fly him over the aud; instead, during “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” it lowered him to the floor, where he pulled a silver-haired granny from her seat and treated her to a dance; he joked about his nose, hair and dance moves, and it’s not his (admittedly thin) voice he hopes will live on — his greatest desire is for his songs to be “ruined in karaoke bars for years to come.”
Manilow was on solid ground when assaying his hits, even if the production sometimes turned overly literal (dancers appeared whenever the word “dance” shows up in the lyrics; he donned a Nehru jacket and peered at a lava lamp during a ’60s medley), but Manilow was at his hokiest at his most heartfelt. “I Am Your Child” is a schmaltzy “daddy” ballad, and “I Made It Through the Rain” is a weepy “I had to fight and suffer to get where I am” meller leavened by a story, complete with a recording made at a Times Square recording booth, about his grandfather, who first saw young Barry’s musical ability.
The unforced sweetness of those moments made palatable such missteps as his hoary attempts at humor, unfortunate choice to sing Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” in honor of Valentine’s Day (including solos by special guest Dave Koz on sax and opener Brian Culbertson on trombone) and bathetic farewell (following the inevitable “Copabana”) “Forever and a Day.”
“Manilow: Music and Passion” resumes its run at the Las Vegas Hilton on March 5.