Review - Manilow On Broadway
I'm writing these words fully aware that there is no opinion I can express in the ensuing paragraphs that will ever have any effect on anyone's decision whether or not to buy tickets for Manilow On Broadway. I don't mean that in a self-effacing manner. I'm also sure that no one ever looked at an ad for Barry Manilow's current concert engagement at the St. James and thought, "Hmm, this looks interesting but I want to see what Ben Brantley says about it before buying tickets."Certainly the woman sitting next to me in the 4th row center of the orchestra section didn't wait for the critical consensus, telling me she had seen every performance of the run thus far and had every intention of seeing every remaining one.
Like Cirque Dreams and Forever Tango, this is one of those shows I really have no business reviewing (Some would say the same about me reviewing Chekhov, but that's another matter.), but it's playing on Broadway so as a New York theatre critic I'm granted a pair.
A former accompanist for Bette Midler at the Continental Baths, Manilow secured his place in American pop culture by writing classic television jingles like, "I am stuck on Band-Aid, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me," and "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there," but will be forever remembered for recording pop standards (both self-written and by others) like "Mandy," "Copacabana," "It's A Miracle," "I Write The Songs," "Could It Be Magic" and "Can't Smile Without You."At 69 years of age, the energetic Manilow looks and sounds pretty terrific. Backed by Ron Walters, Jr.'s onstage band and vocalists Kye Brackett (who staged the evening) and Sharon Hendrix, he looks out at his fans with nostalgic warmth, like a disco-era saloon singer, and happily croons all the standards they came to hear. When he uses "Looks Like We Made It," to celebrate his return to Broadway (He won a special Tony for his 1977 engagement.), he notes that the "we" includes the fans that have supported him throughout his career. And he seems truly honored to be here, indulging in a chorus of "Give My Regards To Broadway" and expressing how excited he is to be on the same stage as the original productions of Hello, Dolly!, Oklahoma! and The Producers.
Speaking sentimentally of his Jewish upbringing in Brooklyn, he comes off as a real mensch with a sense of humor about himself. When he bumps his hips to the music or gives a few pelvic thrusts, it's with an attitude that seems to ask, "Remember when this was sexy?" (From the squeals of the crowd you can tell they still think it is.) At one point, after belting out a high note, he accented the moment with a Harpo Marx gookie face, laughing at the greater effort he has to give now.
While I don't doubt his sincerity when he speaks of his fellow New Yorkers who suffered as a result of storm Sandy and the neighbors who came to their aid, it may not be the best idea to honor them with "I Made It Through The Rain." Nevertheless, I'm sure many find the moment deeply touching. This is a love-in and the audience members, all of whom receive free glow sticks with their Playbills, spend the night loudly cheering, singing along, snapping photos and standing up to sway with the music; all with the star's approval and encouragement.