Fear not, the Fanilows will get what they came for. And trust me, I know what I'm talking about.
It's not only that I have (finally, after two cancellations) experienced Manilow on Broadway, the 90-minute lovefest put on by Brooklyn's own ageless troubadour at the St. James Theatre, it's that the show is a potent reminder that I still remember every lyric to songs I first heard four decades ago. Even the tricky ones, like "Bandstand Boogie" and "New York City Rhythm" or the simpler, schmaltzier ones like "Weekend in New England" and "Even Now."
And it's awfully nice of Barry to let me – well, the whole audience – sing along when we feel like it, whether he asks us (which he does early on for "Can't Smile Without You" and much later for "Copacabana" and "I Write the Songs") or not. We can also shout, stand, wave our glowsticks, or even do an interpretive dance whenever we're in the mood. The usual rules of Broadway simply don't apply --though one audience member did learn smoking cigarettes in a theater is still strictly prohibited.
It's not that Barry, seemingly still quite humble at age 69, isn't aware that he's on Broadway; he even pays tribute to the Great White Way by performing his top-selling version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory." (In the evening's best, and probably unscripted, moment, he referred to the composer as "Andrew Lloyd Wealthy.") Proving just how effective he can be as a singer and a ballad writer, Barry also detours slightly from the show's greatest hits format to sing the lovely "Every Single Day" from Harmony, the still possibly Broadway-bound musical he co-wrote with frequent collaborator, Bruce Sussman.
He also reminisces about his Williamsburg upbringing with his loving grandfather and compliments the hometown crowd on how kind they were during Hurricane Sandy. He knows how to win us over. Not that he needs to, since we're primed to be on his side – and stay there -- from the get-go. Which is why we forgive the fact that the voice has lost a little flexibility, especially in the upper register. Or that his mouth sometimes barely moves. Or that he could probably be a little more revealing in his patter. Or that he really could make better use of the big screen behind him than primarily showing us some old album covers.
Then again, it's pretty cool when Barry appears on that screen in an episode of TV's The Midnight Special and we see him back in 1975 singing the first verse of "Mandy" and then he comes out and completes the song live. And even if he doesn't sing "Daybreak," which is a bummer, he does croon the gorgeous "When October Goes" (to which he matched a haunting melody to pre-existing lyrics by the late, great Johnny Mercer). It's during songs like this one that even a non-Fanilow has to admit Barry Manilow is a singer and composer who both respects words and his audience, which seems to be increasingly rare these days. So if you can mouth all the words to "Could It Be Magic" – regardless of whether you prefer the fast disco version or the slower, original one – you're already a Fanilow. And if you're not one already, try to make to it through the rain (or snow or wind) to see this show and join the club!
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