Thursday, March 19, 2009

SHOW REVIEW: 'Manilow: Music & Passion'

LV Review
November 2007

Just Like the Good Ol' Days: Manilow show a total throwback, complete
with cover tunes



what: "Manilow: Music & Passion"

when: 8 p.m. today and Saturday; Nov. 27-Dec. 1

where: Las Vegas Hilton, 3000 Paradise Road

tickets: $110-$253.50 (732-5755)

rating: B-

Barry Manilow changes jackets a lot onstage and has swapped a lot of his own hits for classic oldies.

When Barry Manilow set up shop at the Las Vegas Hilton in early 2005, I wrote, "For better or worse, it feels like a show from a veteran Las Vegas entertainer that could have been there a long time already."

The show has changed since then, and now I've got to take it one step further: Manilow could have performed this entire act when he was across Paradise Road at the Riviera in April 1981.

Oh, sure, fans could tell the difference. The lapels on this year's spangled jackets may not be as wide as the were in the '80s. The rare album cut "Brooklyn Blues" -- which he introduces as "the greatest groove of my entire catalog" -- didn't come along until 1987. The keyboard technology and 10-piece band arrangements are subtly modern.

And his face may have fewer wrinkles than it did then. But in the big picture, Manilow has become even more the old-Vegas showman than he was only a couple of years ago. "Music & Passion" has less of a biographical thread than when it debuted. Now it's a complete throwback to the old showroom days; as long as you had a hit or two under your name to lure them through the door, it didn't matter what else you sang as long as you were entertaining.

A large chunk of the act now follows the path of Manilow's three albums saluting "The Greatest Songs" of the '50s, '60s and '70s. Blowing through them in chronological order means fewer of his own hits, and more covers of everything from "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing" to "Yesterday" ("Sing it with me!") to "You've Got a Friend."

A lot of the songs come to life as mini production numbers, with a quartet of backup singers wearing cute '50s get-ups and jitterbugging to "Bandstand Boogie." This is maybe not the part of the classic Vegas that we miss when we talk about the good old days.

Or perhaps it is. A good part of the audience at this particular show seemed well past Manilow's age (it's been a matter of past dispute, but he's probably 64), older than the baby boomer "fanilows" who grew up with him and who still cheer wildly from the front rows. Though he's perhaps the most unlikely of singers to evolve into an
interpreter -- it once seemed impossible to separate Barry Manilow's voice from a Barry Manilow song -- all three "Greatest" albums shot to the top positions of the album charts.

Perhaps an underserved audience is going to see him simply because no one else is doing this type of show right now. And his core audience goes along with it. There seems to be a tacit understanding between the singer and his fans: If you want to hear "Here at the Mayflower," his last stab at original songwriting, you can go home and cue it up.

Because this is the Hilton, you can't help but compare the private-party nature of these shows to what the later Elvis years must have been in the same venue. There's an unshakable bond with the devout, whether Manilow is taking time out to blow his nose ("I can't help it. I'm a person.") or coaching a singalong: "OK, I'll sing the
bridge!" he instructs during "Can't Smile Without You."

And by the Elvis measure, he's certainly in better physical and vocal shape than the King was in his early 40s. A lot of the heavily scripted shtick is a hoot to watch, especially when Manilow sits on a side-stage that's supposed to evoke his early career apartment and pretends to smoke a joint. "The only drug I take is Lipitor," he
assures fans.

Still, when Manilow does a "Mandy" duet with a video of his younger self, you can't help but notice something about the young guy on "The Midnight Special." The '70s hair is bad, the powder-blue outfit worse. But the guy on the screen is really lost in his song, deeply believing in it.

Now it's all just a walk-through, more a celebration of mutual survival than a sincere performance, reflecting the 20-year-old attitude Manilow tells the crowd he once held toward Las Vegas: "Isn't that where old singers go to die?"

Not anymore Barry. Unless, of course, that's what you want it to be.

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