Christmas came to the Amalie Arena on Friday night in the form of Barry Manilow! Florida and California are the lucky states that are hosting Barry’s Christmas tour this year. I was invited by a friend to see the show and quite honestly I was on the fence. At age 15, I loved Barry’s first big hit “Mandy” but that was back in 1974 and my musical tastes changed over the years. Sure, I knew Barry’s hit songs, I was a child of Top 40 radio but, at some point it became uncool to like Barry. He became my mother’s music. But on Friday night, Manilow brought me full circle, it’s funny how age, nostalgia and a great singer can do that!
Upon arrival, we were given glow sticks to wave around during the show. A fun way to set the tone for certain songs during the show or use as your applause meter by waving it around. The stage was set in Christmas décor. Barry arrived to the opening number of “It’s A Miracle”. He moved right into Christmas mode with several holiday tunes including “Christmas is Just Around the Corner” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. Extremely personable, Barry makes jokes including about himself. He clearly knows how it is to be Barry Manilow! At 75, Manilow has had an illustrious career. 12 number one singles, 27 top 10 hits and has sold over 80 million albums. He has been respected by both Sinatra and Bob Dylan. He started out with Bette Midler and has since produced her work.
In a beautifully poignant moment of the show Barry performed the Joni Mitchell penned “River” about a Christmastime relationship break-up. He also did a tribute to old blue eyes himself Frank Sinatra, complete with a drink and pretend cigarette. In between holiday tunes came the hits like “I Can’t Smile Without You” and “Daybreak”. Manilow has a great band of around 20 musicians backing him as well as his three background singers. He pays respect to the “talented and wonderful” people who work with him and introduces everyone individually.
Manilow moves around the stage, does a little dancing, hikes himself up on the piano for a tune and sounds great. He holds several notes at length and jokes “What is your 75 year old grandpa doing tonight?” The audience laughs along with him, many of them his age. His fan base is a mixed bag of everyone mostly over 40. One of the highlights is Barry leaving for a costume change and the big screen displays a 1974 Manilow on the TV show “Midnight Special” playing that first big hit “Mandy”. Barry returns to finish the song with both young and current selves singing together. A goosebump time travel moment that has that 15 year-old singing along. “I Write the Songs” has the whole crowd singing and I find I know the words to a song I hadn’t heard in many years.
Of course, everyone is waiting for that classic dance number “Copacabana” that has almost become Manilow’s theme song. Barry and his band deliver a rousing rendition. Taking a bow and leaving the stage, he sends Santa Claus and sleigh out for the encore of Christmas tunes to come including “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas” complete with snow blasting out into the arena! Children come to the stage and Barry says “Christmas is all about the children” and shares his mic singing with a young girl. Streams of colorful confetti falling from the ceiling, Barry waves goodnight to audience. A great feel-good holiday show, Manilow is actually pretty cool after all!
Photos courtesy of Vicky Sullivan / The Sarasota Post