Sun File Photo
Tuesday, March 11, 2008 | 2 a.m.
IF YOU GO
What: “Barry Manilow: Music and Passion”
Where: Las Vegas Hilton Theater
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; more dates April-December
Admission: $95-$225; (800) 222-5361, www.lvhilton.com
Beyond the Sun
Barry Manilow is back in town after a three-month hiatus.
Here’s what the dynamo was up to while AWOL:
• Played live with an orchestra for Brian Boitano’s ice skating spectacular in San Francisco’s AT&T Park.
• Supersized his Las Vegas act for stadium audiences in Los Angeles, Dallas and Washington.
• Released “Songs From the Seventies” DVD.
• Marketed five Manilow-labeled wines retailing from $20 to $25 a bottle.
• Got some long-overdue hipster credit for giving Shelby Lynne the idea to record her superlative album of Dusty Springfield covers.
How did anything get done around here without him?
An energized, ever-ready Manilow took back his custom-built Hilton Theater stage Wednesday and showed Las Vegas how much fun and heart can be packed into 90 minutes. For about the same price as the “Showgirl” spectacle starring former colleague Bette Midler (Manilow was her prefame pianist, arranger and musical director), “Music and Passion” offers an intimate, humanly scaled and entirely enjoyable evening. And he doesn’t once mention how much his show cost (or how tired he is).
It might just be the most effective mood elevator on the market.
The show just hit the three-year mark and still feels playful and fresh. Manilow performs through Saturday and returns April 2 to settle in for a nice long stay, playing 52 more dates through December. He has reportedly signed to appear through 2009 at the 1,700-seat jewel box theater.
From the moment of his casual walk-on entrance, Manilow seems to genuinely enjoy his own show. He engages easily with his band and four backup singer-dancers — one amusing bit features Manilow and his three keyboardists trying to outdo each other on a rollicking piano solo in “New York City Rhythm.”
Manilow gets close enough to touch — and several audience members make valiant attempts. He takes care to spend quality time with fans seated at cabaret-style microstages at both sides of the stage, shakes his “yes” to “Copacabana” atop a bridge suspended over the audience, slow-dances with a swoony fan (a security guard stands discreetly nearby to make sure she lets go). On Wednesday night, Manilow even presided over a real-life wedding proposal.
And the elfin entertainer himself — our national Peter Pan — is chipper, cheery and endearingly corny at 64. With his twinkling permagrin and frosted mullet-mop, he frisks through a trove of can’t-miss hits with unabated energy. The set list, a sentimental journey, concentrates on Manilow the songwriter, most of the songs from his decade-dominating 1970s period. But he also briefly samples his popular album series featuring “Greatest Songs” of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s (he says he’s working on the inevitable ’80s volume), adding a pleasing hint of grit to his sugary croon when he sings “Moonlight Serenade” into a ’40s-style radio mike. The peak emotional moment arrives near the show’s end, when Manilow duets with a projected version of his much-younger self on “Mandy.”
(Well, it was emotional if, like many of us in the audience, you remember watching it on TV 30 years ago.)
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself surrounded by people who have seen the show at least twice. (They call themselves “fanilows.”) They’re a polite and friendly bunch, and they are ready for a guaranteed good time.
And although it can be annoying during other concerts, singing along is apparently encouraged at a Manilow show. It’s really almost involuntary: You may not think you know many Manilow songs, but everyone knows the words and the melodies — they have insinuated themselves into our physical beings. Even the snootiest snobs and the hippest hipsters could find themselves smiling in the dark, thinking, “I loved these songs.”
The Hilton Theater may not be as technologically cutting-edge as the Colosseum — the screen projections are not so HD-crisp, but they never overwhelm the entertainer. And if the sound system has a touch of AM radio tinniness, even that flaw is forgivable — that’s how most of us first heard these tunes.
It’s good to have Barry back — we need him here — and this town is plenty big for both him and his old friend over at Caesars. “Music and Passion” is a must-go: This showman is on.