Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2004 | 8:29 a.m.
When "Manilow, Music and Passion" premiers at the Las Vegas Hilton on Feb. 24, headliner Barry Manilow promises a mix of the old and the new, including one song he wrote just for the show.
"Of course we will be doing a lot of the hits, like 'Mandy,' but I can't do just that," said the superstar of the '70s and '80s. "So I have invented this thing that you will have to come and see -- it allows me to change songs and put in new material every night. The show will change every night."
Manilow, seated at a piano, was responding to questions at a press conference Tuesday in the Hilton's Shimmer Cabaret, where comedian David Brenner is the headliner.
Brenner and Manilow are old friends, rising to stardom during the same time frame, often working together. It is somewhat of an irony that they would end up as neighboring headliners in the same hotel -- Manilow in the 1,700-seat showroom, Brenner in the 300-seat cabaret.
Manilow said Brenner, who has been at the Hilton since Sept. 3, was instrumental in his landing his latest engagement -- a 24-week contract spread over 2005 and continuing into 2006.
"David was my first phone call," Manilow said. "He called me and said somebody should call somebody."
After all the calls were made, Manilow signed a deal that will have him giving a total of 120 performances -- five 90-minute shows per week, with tickets ranging from $85 to $145 (plus tax).
Officials declined to discuss the financial arrangements.
At the time of Manilow's news conference, Brenner was en route to Toronto for a performance and could not be reached for comment.
But Manilow had plenty to say.
"I couldn't be more excited," a beaming Manilow said. "I've played every place in Las Vegas. The only place I haven't played is at Chuck E. Cheese down the street."
He has even performed at the Hilton, on the stage made famous by Elvis Presley in the late '60s and early '70s when the hotel was called the International.
Being a headliner in the showroom that Elvis built impresses even Manilow, one of the world's top-selling recording artists noted for such hits as "Mandy," "Even Now," "This One's for You," "Weekend in New England," "I Write the Songs" and "Copacabana (at The Copa)."
"Standing on the same stage that hosted Elvis is one of the most exciting opportunities of my career ... I can't wait to start," the 58-year-old Manilow said.
His is a career filled with exciting moments, from the early years when he wrote and sang advertising jingles and played piano for Bette Midler, to the concert tours of the the world that have consumed much of his life.
It is the touring that ultimately resulted in his decision to set down some roots in Las Vegas, which isn't far from his home in Palm Springs, Calif.
"I have spent most of my life on the road, all over the country, all over the world," Manilow said as he quietly played the piano. "The last tour I just came off of was wonderfully successful, wonderfully exciting, but I decided that was going to be it -- that was going to be the end of my touring career.
"I used to kid around with my audiences and say 'Why don't you just come over to my house from now on?' "
Manilow says the Hilton is now his house.
"The show is fantastic already," he said, commenting on what fans can expect. "I'm working with these great, creative people."
Manilow said the production won't be what people are used to seeing on his tours.
"There will be all sorts of special effects," he said. "But, hopefully, it will be as emotional, as usual."
Manilow has written a special song for the show.
"I hope it winds up being the Las Vegas theme song, like 'New York-New York,' " Manilow said.
There will be a band and dancers/singers, but nothing of the magnitude of Celine Dion, Elton John or the Cirque du Soleil productions.
"It will be very entertaining," Manilow said. "I'm very excited."
He says Vegas has changed a lot from the early days when he performed here.
"It used to be a place for older entertainers -- Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr.," he said. "But I think Vegas has become hip, and young."
Rudy Prieto, chief executive and general manager of the Hilton, said the agreement with Manilow shows the hotel's commitment "to restore the luster to Las Vegas. This is the affirmation of our commitment -- and in the coming months you will see more changes."
In June the Hilton was bought by Colony Capital LLC for $280 million.
"Barry Manilow is a great superstar who is going to make Las Vegas hotter than ever," Prieto said.
Ron Dante, Manilow's record producer from 1974 until 1981, says his former associate is even better today than he was when he was first starting his career.
"He's a very funny guy, with a great sense of humor," Dante said. "He will be right up there with Celine Dion and Elton John. His show will be as good or better. He knows what to do -- he's a great showman."
Dante may be best known as lead singer of the '60s group the Archies. He and vocalist/songwriter Andy Kim became international sensations with their 1969 recording "Sugar, Sugar," which was written for the cartoon series "The Archie Show."
Dante says Manilow is more at ease onstage, is a more dynamic performer, and "He has learned to control that great instrument --- he has gotten stronger and stronger."
However, Dante (who discovered Manilow and produced or co-produced all of his records through 1981), says he believes Manilow meant it when he announced this was his final tour.
"For almost 30 years he's been knocking his brains out on tours," Dante said during a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "It took a lot out of him.
"But he loves what he does. And this is a chance for him to perform for all of his fans without going on the road. They can come see him."
Dante says Manilow isn't in the best of health. He has had bronchitis three or four times recently.
"I think he's been looking for something like this for many years," Dante said. "It seems like every time he's on road, he gets the flu or something.
"This is a perfect opportunity for the world to come to his door, in a way."
Dante says Manilow doesn't entertain just for the money.
"He does it a lot for the pleasure of performing," he said.