Barry Manilow brings hits, emotion and charm to Gwinnett

By: Melissa Ruggieri

Published: April 27, 2013

It’s hard to imagine the type of pop craftsmanship so expertly presented by Barry Manilow existing 30 years from now.

Aside from selling 80 million records worldwide, stringing up 57 singles on the charts between 1974 and 2012 (it was a Christmas song, if you’re wondering) and  now planning a musical that opens at the Alliance Theatre in the fall, Manilow is a masterful performer.

He knows that a PG-rated hip thrust during an amped-up dance version of “Could it Be Magic” will still send the ladies squealing and that any of the tender and/or lovelorn ballads in his insanely full repertoire will keep them swooning.

Manilow brought those songs and about 20 more to a nearly full Arena at Gwinnett Center Saturday night for his “Manilow on Broadway” hits parade, a show based on the one he performed for a month on Broadway earlier this year.

Though he turns 70 in June and walks a bit more stiffly since his hip surgery at the end of 2011, Manilow has rarely sounded better (and this is coming from a veteran Fanilow who has seen him perform dozens of times during the past two decades).

With a crackerjack six-piece band behind him and two spirited backup singers adding fancy footwork as well as vocal flourishes, Manilow plowed through “Somewhere in the Night,” “Can’t Smile Without You” (the always over-long bring-a-fan-on-stage shtick has mercifully been axed) and the spunky “Bandstand Boogie.”

Audience cheers escalated when “American Bandstand” footage of Dick Clark appeared on the onstage video screen and the glow sticks handed out at the door were in full overhead swing.

Throughout the well-paced show, Manilow cracked several self-effacing jokes. ”My nose looks as big as those buildings,” he said when a snapshot of the “Even Now” album cover with the New York skyline behind his silhouette popped onscreen and then, after “I Am Your Child,” joked, “That was on my first album, which we released in 1821.”

Sure, it’s all a little ba-dum-bum, but even when Manilow is sticking to scripted patter, he comes off as the relatable Brooklyn boy he referenced on the slinky “Brooklyn Blues” and “This One’s for You,” which he dedicated to his grandfather, Joseph.

Manilow is a consummate musician, a melody man who attributes his love of music to his days in the school orchestra. To that end, Manilow created the Manilow Music Project and is donating a piano to a school district (Gwinnett County Public Schools here) in every city he plays. He also mentioned Jackson’s Music store on Horizon Parkway in Buford as the locale to drop off used instruments for school donations.

But back on stage, Manilow, who moved between a grand piano and a keyboard throughout the 90-minute show, unleashed a powerhouse vocal during the swelling “Weekend in New England” and referenced the four “decades” albums that kept him busy in the mid-2000s with a trot through Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

While fans obviously relished the timeless emotion and heart-hugging sentiments of “I Made it Through the Rain” and “Trying to Get the Feeling” and those glow sticks slashed the air mightily during the irresistible deep-fried cheese that is “Copacabana,” a highlight came with a hint of “Harmony.”

Manilow is staging the musical for the Alliance – “You guys are so lucky to have such a beautiful theater in your hometown,” he said – and performed the love song from the show, “Every Single Day.”

It’s a beautiful, cascading ballad stocked with the perfect amount of chest-heaving emotion for a theatrical production – and Manilow nailed every note.

No, we won’t likely see a songwriter of Manilow’s stature any time soon – if ever again – but it’s heartening to know that he isn’t done yet.