Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Manilow appeal: Could it be magic?

June 21, 1993

Where: Anaheim Arena, Anaheim
When: Saturday night
Bottom line: Despite his schlockmeister reputation, Manilow proved he deserves respect.


Manilow appeal: Could it be magic?

By Anne Valdespino and Paul Hodgins

Fifty million albums sold. Twenty-five consecutive Top 40 hits. The No. 1 adult contemporary artist of all time.

Streisand? Diamond? McCartney? Joel? Nope. Manilow.

Barry Manilow? The name itself can induce titters. He's the man so many love to hate, dismissed as the king of pop's schlock sub-basement. Yet the numbers tell a compelling story; a lot of Manilow naysayers out there must be lying.

"You just have to see him in concert," gush the Maniloonies. "He's a god, an absolute god!"

How could we resist? This is right up the FACE-OFF alley -- investigating pop culture phenomena of dubious merit for redeeming artistic and social value.

Besides, we heard there's more than 200,000 square feet of marble in the new Anaheim Arena, yet they still sell hot dogs. Can't wait to spill mustard on that floor.

6:30 p.m. -- We arrive 90 minutes early. There are scare stories about the parking problem. What parking problem? We pull up close to the green-and-salmon front door. (Well, our press pass helped a bit.)

6:40 p.m. -- The will-call line stretches into infinity. Scalpers are getting $80 for $37 tickets. We wait around for more than an hour while the arena people search frantically for our tickets. It gives us plenty of time to check out the crowd.

Paul: Where did all the Manilow fans come from? These are real people who look like me, not fat fortysomethings in Dacron. Blow me over with a Copacabana boa!

Ann: I thought it would be an all-female crowd. Granted, there are a lot of women here, dressed to the nines, all hoping to be singled out for his Can't Smile Without You segment. But there seem to be guys in line who are legitimate fans -- not boy-friends dragged here kicking and screaming. A good contingent of "mature" fans too. They probably grew up with Cole Porter and like songs to which they can understand the lyrics.

7:45 p.m. -- We're finally in our seats. Manilow has requested the arena temperature to be kept at 65 degrees. Brrr! We swear we can see our breath, and it looks like rain: A cumulus cloud is forming in the rafters.

Paul: These hot dogs seem disappointingly normal to me. Soggy bun, weird aftertaste -- just like the ball park. And the beer tastes I guess some things never change.

Anne: What makes the food special are the prices: $2.50 hot dogs, $4.50 beers, and $3.75 for Inglenook Chablis in a plastic cup. It's just like stadiums or amusement parks. Unlike Disneyland, though, you can get cocktails here. Where else can you munch Cracker Jack between sips of a Bloody Mary?

8:45 p.m. -- After two announced delays (according to a Register reporter outside, the parking lot looks like a scene from Wild Kingdom), Manilow Mania sweeps the crowd. Finally, Barry makes the scene.

Paul: Funny-looking, isn't he? He thinks he's a cross between Stephen Sondheim and Michael Feinstein, but he looks like Martin Short doing Neil Diamond. And he's as hoarse as Rod Stewart.

Anne: You know, even through opera glasses, he looks pretty good. He's got a neat '90s haircut. The '70s longhaired poet look is gone.

Paul: This concert is a hitfest. Mandy, Could It Be Magic, Looks Like We Made It -- he's delivering them all. Hmmm. I always thought it was Looks Like Tomatoes.

Anne: He's got the crowd eating out of his tanned, manicured hand. The few who aren't diehard fans are being won over by Manilow's easy charm and ability to poke fun at himself. I like his cracks about what people are actually doing when they listen to his songs: "Forget George Washington -- I'M the father of our country!"

Paul: Although It's A Miracle never induced me to dive into the back seat of my car....


Anne: So, do you still hate Barry?

Paul: Well, I wouldn't want to be trapped on a desert island with only his records. But there's no denying this is one helluva guy. He puts on a professional show -- almost two hours, more than 20 songs, all of them hits.

Anne: I can see why his fans are so worshipful. When he picked a woman out of the crowd during Can't Smile Without You, he didn't just sing to her. He let her sing, he hugged her, he kissed her. He even gave her an autographed videotape of the whole thing. Now that's really sweet.

Paul: There's a tear running down your cheek. Are you truly touched by the Manilow Magic?

Anne: No, I just saw the traffic jam ahead of us. Isn't the gas tank empty?

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