Theater review by Adam Feldman. St. James Theatre. With Barry Manilow. 1hr 45mins. No intermission.
Barry Manilow’s Broadway concert is what we might call a cheese-fondue set: an enjoyable gift to those with a taste for music that is gooey, savory and strongly evocative of the ’70s. “We don’t have any phantoms, we don’t have any lions, we don’t have any Spider-Men,” Manilow announced on opening night. “All we’ve got is a bunch of hit songs, and I’m planning on doing ’em all!” That he does, in a nearly two-hour collection that includes tunes he wrote or cowrote—such as the campy melodrama “Copacabana” and a sample from his musical, Harmony—and others that he made famous, such as “Mandy,” “Looks Like We Made It” and, ironically enough, “I Write the Songs.” (The lovely “Could It Be Magic,” from his 1974 debut album, borrows a melody from Chopin.)
Despite a recent bout of bronchitis, Manilow’s voice remains pleasingly strong and familiar as he approaches his 70th birthday. Stiff of gait (after hip surgeries) and taut of face (after heavy lifting), his hair still bright and fluffy, the Brooklyn-born singer has a slightly embalmed appearance—but would we want it any other way? The Manilow persona was not designed to deepen with the creases of age. “Maybe the old songs will bring back the old times,” he sings midway through the show, and that is the core of their continued appeal to a fan base more than happy to stand up and sing along to “Can’t Smile Without You.” Manilow is self-deprecating but not apologetic; and he does, after all, make a lot of people grin. (With its loud music, glow sticks and pixelated graphics projected on the back wall, Manilow on Broadway is a bit like a rave for middle-aged women in busy prints.) But the songs have an elemental sentimental appeal that transcends kitsch. Dip your fork in and enjoy.—Adam Feldman
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