Concert Review: BARRY MANILOW (Hollywood Bowl)

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by Tony Frankel on September 10, 2019

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


You know when glowsticks have been placed on each seat of the Hollywood Bowl prior to Barry Manilow’s extremely well-sold concert that there would be heart-wrenching numbers ahead. And there obviously were. Easy-listening, high-charting, orchestral pop tunes “Even Now,” “Weekend in New England,” and “Mandy” among them, backed up by the sterling LA Phil with Barry’s band and triad of back-up singers. Even the gown-wearing Los Alamitos High School choir showed up at the end to add even more youthful exuberance to this 80-minute affair (“And for the first time in their life, they’re not texting,” Manilow said of the mixed chorus).

Then there were the glitzy jackets Manilow changed into time and again as if he were headed straight to Vegas after this two-night booking at the Bowl. Which he is. The man with 50 Top 40 hits and sales of more than 85 million albums is opening again in Vegas at The Westgate, where he will no doubt use much of the same dialogue we got at the Bowl: “Where did the melodies go?”; “I was raised by two Russian immigrants…”; “I know, I’m a Sex God!”; “Not bad for a 76-year-old, right?” He will definitely also remind audiences there — as he did with us — of his commercial jingles from the ’70s: “I am stuck on Band-Aid! ‘Cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me!” and “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is theeeere!”

Doesn’t it just sound as cheesy as a plate at a low-end fundraiser?

It was.

But here’s the thing: I truly enjoyed him. He’s authentic, funny, self-deprecating, and a great storyteller t’boot. He still brings freshness and vitality to his music, even though he has sung these melodic wonders (“Copacabana,” “I can’t Smile Without You,” “Could It Be Magic?”) thousands of times. Except for a new tune from an upcoming album (“This Is My Town”) covering songs about New York, this was definitely a ’70s-centric evening.

While he touched on his personal life, there was nary a mention of his coming out in 2017 nor of his marriage to long-time manager-turned-husband Garry Kief. Not that he needed to, especially for his clearly already forgiving mostly female fan base — it just kept the affair a well-preserved version of Manilow from decades ago. (While he denies having had plastic surgery, his line-free face and bloated cheeks were definitely a bit eerie.) Still, we got a touching look into his impoverished Brooklyn youth when we heard a scratchy recording of his grandfather urging him to sing “Happy Birthday” when Manilow was a child.

His voice has held up remarkably well, but the sound engineers gave him this hollow reverb sound, which may have been used to mask any imperfections; unfortunately, he sounded faraway in comparison to all the other talent on stage — as if he were singing from the bathroom stalls.

While one will never know if there were newbies converted into “Fanilows” last Saturday night, the underrated megastar tangibly embodied the joy of singing, performing, and most importantly, touching our hearts.

Ladies and gentleman Ms. Lorna Luft!#hollywoodbowl #barrymanilow

Posted by Lorna Luft Official on Friday, September 6, 2019


The less said about the opening act, the better. Judy Garland’s second daughter, I mean Lorna Luft, is most decidedly not Judy, even as she did a sanitized travelogue/tribute of songs highlighting Judy’s career (or off-nights as it sounded like here). Lorna definitely has pipes but she has always been best as a cabaret singer or with some musical comedy, as she lacks the “it factor” to fill a large house. She sounded OK when she didn’t push, but at the Bowl her overworking vibrato had that Katherine Hepburn wobble, with some straining on top during “The Voice…” I mean, “The Man That Got Away.” The spunky patter — with voice-overs of her kids asking about Judy — was homogeneous and has clearly been done to death; in fact, she’s been doing this routine for decades: her 2007 CD Lorna Luft: Songs My Mother Taught Me was produced by her best friend Barry Manilow, whose glowsticks were brought out for “The Trolley Song.” Clang, clang, clang, indeed.

video from Lorna Luft’s post on Facebook

Barry Manilow (with Lorna Luft)
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Hollywood Bowl
played September 6 & 7, 2019
for future events visit The Bowl

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