A True Blue Spectacle: Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow, larger than life on the Las Vegas Hilton's hotel tower
Barry Manilow, larger than life on the Las Vegas Hilton's hotel tower
Photo by Megan Edwards

I finally went to see Barry Manilow last Saturday night. I’d been wanting to for years, but that insidious “I can do it anytime” attitude had kept me away. The truth is, we locals can’t do it anytime. If we could, I’d be putting off seeing the Rat Pack this weekend, or finding a reason to delay buying a ticket to hear Elvis. It’s that kind of thinking that means I’ll never see Siegfried & Roy or Celine Dion’s show at Caesars. I’m very glad I don’t have to add Danny Gans to that list, or “Spamalot,” or the “Folies Bergere,” which I managed to catch before they went dark forever. I still procrastinate far too much, but I’m extremely glad my “postponititis” didn’t keep me from seeing Barry Manilow.

Ultimate Manilow: The Hits,” which is the official title of Manilow’s show at the Las Vegas Hilton, is the sort of experience you want to be rewarded with every time you buy a ticket in Vegas. Not only does it delight and surprise its audience with ingenious stage décor, lights, smoke, confetti and streamers, it has a headliner that outdazzles them all. It’s for people like Manilow that the term “superstar” had to be invented. The man is tiny, but he fills up that huge theater for a solid 90 minutes and somehow even goes with you when you leave.

Well okay, he’s not on stage the whole 90 minutes, but he’s there for a good 85. Of that 85, he spends at least 80 singing, and much of the time, he’s also playing the piano. You paid for Manilow, and Manilow is what you get, in addition to over a dozen of the best musicians and backup singers you’ll hear anywhere.

Perhaps I should mention here that I come from a generation that tried hard to despise Barry Manilow. We failed, of course, because who can’t stop humming “Mandy” once they’ve heard it? I think the custom of never admitting you like Manilow is part of the Woodstock effect. Barry Manilow was off working for the man when Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were singing in the rain. If you bought into the anti-establishment mood of the time, that pretty much meant you had to keep any admiration you might feel for someone who wrote jingles for corporations under your hat headband.

Quite a while ago, I wearied of pretending I didn’t like certain singers or songs because they weren’t hip or might give the signal that I was a Republican. Call me a dork, but I like the theme from “Cheers” and that Coke song about teaching the world to sing. I like Wayne Newton’s version of “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” and Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.” I also like Gregorian chants, Indian drumming, all the songs from “My Fair Lady,” and Bobby Darin’s version of “Mack the Knife.” That Celene Dion song from the Titanic movie is pretty unforgettable, and all those scores by John Williams… I could go on and on, because the moment I decided my tastes in music didn’t have to match my taste in clothes or presidential candidates, my playlist exploded to infinity. But I digress.

Poster advertising Manilow's show at the Las Vegas Hilton<br><em>Photo by Megan Edwards</em>
Poster advertising Manilow's show at the Las Vegas Hilton
Photo by Megan Edwards

What makes “Ultimate Manilow: The Hits” truly outstanding is that the show lives up to its name and even delivers extra. As I mentioned, Manilow is on stage for all but the few moments it takes to change jackets. Except for the minute or two he’s delivering entertaining patter, he’s singing and playing—just as advertised—the hits. In other shows, performers often sing just a few lines of their reputation-making numbers. Donny Osmond, for example, sings only a few phrases of “Puppy Love” in his show. Not Manilow. He sings his songs from beginning to end. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for him to belt out “Mandy” for the 1,785,932nd time, but he does it. “Mandy” is, in fact, the climax of the show, and he performs it as a duet with a video version of himself singing it decades ago on television. Quite amazing.

“Mandy” may be the Everest of the evening, but the rest of the show is a series of equally impressive peaks. As I think back, I also remember “Somewhere Down the Road,” “Brooklyn Blues,” a jazzy version of “Jingle Bells,” and “I Write the Songs.” For “I Can’t Smile Without You,” Manilow invited the audience to join in and shared the mic with a couple of crooning—while swooning—fans. “Copacabana,” the grand finale, featured a “stairway to heaven” contraption that dropped down from the ceiling. Borne aloft, Manilow greeted his adoring fans in the balcony.

Which brings me to another fine feature of Manilow’s performance. Not only does he reward his audience with complete renditions of his classic hits, he lets his fans take pictures during his show. There were times that the flashes from cameras looked like a light show as they reflected on his piano or one of his glittery jackets. Perhaps other performers of his stature allow his sort of thing, but at most shows I’ve attended, efforts to prevent photography are stern and uncompromising. At this show, the only stern and uncompromising features were two big bouncers stationed in front of the footlights. I can understand the need to keep overeager fans from storming the stage. But banning fuzzy photos on cell phones? I think Manilow has the right perspective on this. It had the effect of making the audience feel appreciated and respected. Well, okay, maybe I speak only for myself, but I’m pretty sure the tall guy who stood up and salaamed Manilow at the end of the show felt the same way. And all the swooning ladies. And all the other hundreds of people who jumped up whenever they couldn’t fight off the urge to give a standing ovation.

The glow stick is still glowing slightly even now -- and so am I<br><em>Photo by Megan Edwards</em>
The glow stick is still glowing slightly even now -- and so am I
Photo by Megan Edwards

Like the glow stick handed to me by an usher when I arrived at the theater, I’m still glowing a bit from Manilow’s concert even now, two days later. It inspired me to read about him online, marvel at his multiple talents, and even chastise myself for pretending to hold his work in disdain back when I had my tastes in music and my identity sadly confused. The man is a consummate artist and a brilliant performer. His show is wonderful, and if you don’t catch it while you can, it is most definitely your loss.

Manilow opened and closed his show with “It’s a Miracle,” directing the line “the miracle is you” straight to the audience. It was a lovely, fan-respecting thing to do, but as I look back on my evening at the Hilton, I’m forced to disagree. Thanks, Mr. Manilow, but the only miraculous thing I saw that night was you.


19 responses on “A True Blue Spectacle: Barry Manilow

  1. I also have seen this show. Before I went, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it. Sure, I liked the music, but I didn’t know if I’d want to see a whole show. Now that I’ve seen it, I can confirm what you indicate in the article: Barry Manilow is an amazing talent, a superstar, and I count myself lucky that I’ve seen him perform. If I get the chance, I’d go see his show again in an instant.

  2. This is a show that I wasn’t all that keen in going to see. Megan kinda twisted my arm and I’m glad I went. One of the best staged shows I’ve seen anywhere in recent years… And this show is ending its five-year run in December — so your time is running out.

    The remaining performances of “ULTIMATE MANILOW: The Hits” at the Las Vegas Hilton are October 1-3, October 8-10, November 27-29 and December 28-30. Show times are 8 p.m. in the legendary Hilton Theater. Stage seat tickets are $225 (plus tax and service charge). The seats are up close and personal with 34 located on each side of the stage and at the same level. Main orchestra tickets are $125-175 (plus tax and service charge); rear orchestra tickets $65-$85 (plus tax and service charge) and balcony $65 (plus tax and service charge).

  3. As a long time admirer (30 years) of Mr. Manilow, it is so refreshing when I come across a review that doesn’t bash him along with his music! He is the Ultimate performer and entertainer! So glad you took the time to she the show and to give the man the much deserved praise and respect he richly deserves!
    Deanna Bell

  4. Tami and I went to see this show after seeing Manilow on Graham Norton’s show on BBC America. We were both very impressed, much like you put it, with his professionalism, range, and command of the performance. I’m glad I went, and urge anyone who hasn’t seen it yet to hustle on down and take it in.

  5. The tickets aren’t all $225 or even $65. We are not big gamblers at the Hilton, but got calls for free tickets this week and are going tonight with our neighbors. We’ve seen the show twice before (for free) and enjoy it. I understand tickets were also available recently on showtickets4locals.com.

  6. Great article Ms Edwards and everything you said about Mr Manilow and his show was right on! How we procrastinate! I almost missed this experience! Ultimate Manilow is everything a Vegas show should be and more. If I had not come up to visit my son in the military last Feb, and if Bette Midler had not been on hiatus, I would have missed this great performer. ( TV addict, never listened to radio) I did come back to see the equally wonderful Bette MIdler show. I have been saving up my time off to see Manilow again at the end of Oct. ( Yes, I am now a new Fanilow –7 months and 10 days!) What a disappointment to go online for tickets yesterday and find he is leaving the Hilton. Moral of the story, don’t procrastinate! If luck holds, I will be there for the closing night. For those who waited too long, I am so sorry! Happily, between the Manilow store at the Hilton and Amazon there are lots of Manilow CDs and DVDs available ( I think I left y’all a few). If you can only buy one DVD, I would recommend the “Farewell” DVD recorded just before he got the Hilton gig. He put his whole heart into it , and come to think of it, very fitting in light of yesterdays news.

  7. I think Barry will continue to woo his fans until his dying day. It’s great to see a performers voice hold out for so many years. He continues to inspire and warm the hearts of a lot of people.

  8. Thanks for your comments! I have a feeling all the tickets to Manilow’s last performances at the Hilton will soon be gone — if they aren’t already. I’m very grateful that I didn’t wait too long to see this wonderful show.

    Thanks for the tip on the DVD, Sheila!

  9. Beautifully written, Megan. It’s great to have people who truly appreciate his talent (or at least be opened-minded to it) . Come back to to the party again, and bring your other friends who may feel like you did about his music! We have FUN!!! 🙂

  10. Hi Megan
    I really enjoyed your review. You have captured everything Barry sets out to do for his audiences. Barry is a Brilliant and Talented Performer. He fills the whole showroom with so much inspiration that even you said you take him home with you. The way he delivers each song is outstanding. Not many performers can sing a song that you feel they are singing directly to you alone and when he sings his ballards you could hear a pin drop. He managers to fill the room with so much emotion that is backed up by his wonderful Singers and Band. Now you can understand why he is respected and supported by so many of his dedicated fans. So many fans travel huge distances to see him perform. I and many others here from Australia travel this distance to be entertained by Mr Manilow and leave Las Vegas Hilton feeling very rewarded for our efforts. I don’t know of other entertainers that draw so many from around the world that plan their vacations around Mr Manilows schedules. Now that’s dedication to One Brilliant Man.

  11. Thanks Megan,

    You captured the manilow effect very well – happened to me pretty much like that at my first concert in London last year. Now seen Mr Mailow at 2 Vegas shows this year…even the same one as you.

    The man is the ultimate professional and performer.

  12. What? Someone liked the show and wrote NICE things about Barry Manilow? I didn’t know anyone did that anymore…

    In all seriousness, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see POSITIVE comments about the show. I’ve seen it twice; once when it was ‘Music and Passion’, then again as ‘Ultimate Hits’. I’ve seen Mr. Manilow in concert a bazillion times if I’ve seen him once, and the show never fails to take my breath away or bring tears to my eyes. Ms. Edwards, you’re right…people have spent a whole lot of time convincing themselves that they don’t like Manilow because it’s just not cool, hip, or what’s in vogue. Manilow is the last of the great showmen, and, like the music or not, deserves far more respect than he gets. Thanks for a great article.


  13. Ms Edwards

    I read your article this morning and just now am getting around to making my comments. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for your wonderful words and positive feedback.

    I have loved Mr. Manilow and his muxic since Mandy. I’ve followed him, bought everything he’s ever done and been to a few shows. He’s NEVER failed to make me feel every emotion there possibly is to feel!!! He’s never failed to make me FORGET what was going on OUTSIDE those doors for the duration of that show. He’s there for his audience He’s there to do a show and that’s just what he does. you come to see Barry and just as you siad that’s who you see.

    He and his crew of back ups and band members are like family to a lot of us. Unfortunately, there are so many of his fans out there who love his music, but care very little for him as a human being. They’re selfish and unfeeling and sometimes honestly very disrespectful. He’s a wonderful musician but he’s as human as the rest of us. I feel this shows in his performances.

    This was such a refreshing article to read and i applaud you. Go see him as often as you can. I promise you that each show will be just different enough to make you see and feel different things than the first show did.

    Thanks again for making THIS longtime FAN (NOT FANILOW) smile today!!!!

  14. I have been a fan of Mr. Manilow for close to 35 years and, sadly, reviews like this one have been very rare.
    Usually, reviewers take the easy, cheap shots that have been printed and reprinted for decades.
    It’s disheartening to someone like me who likely will never be able to see Mr. Manilow perform live again (I’ve seen him twice in ’85 and again in ’99), to read the negative rehashed over and over again and it is just not fair to him.
    Thanks for writing such an honest, positive review. It truly was a breath of fresh air.
    I sincerely hope that Mr. Manilow, himself, sees this. I think he would be very pleased.

  15. I have been a long-time fan of Barry’s since my teenage years. I have had the sincere pleasure of seeing Barry in Cleveland, Toronto, twice in Vegas (front row~!) and the last time in Rochester, NY celebrating his marvelous talents and energy, with wonderful and new friendships met along the way. Time has only made Barry “Even Better, Even Now” and I look forward to seeing him again, “Somewhere Down The Road”. Linda LaRose

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