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Manilow on Broadway (2013)

MANILOW ON BROADWAY Barry Manilow
MANILOW ON BROADWAY Barry Manilow
EW's GRADE
B+

Details Opening Date: Jan 29, 2013; Lead Performance: Barry Manilow; Writer: Barry Manilow; Genre: Vocal

Turns out, Barry Manilow does write the songs that make the whole world sing. Or at least the whole audience at the St. James Theatre, where his joyous if a bit predictable Manilow on Broadway opened last night. ''Well, looks like we made it,'' a still sniffly Manilow told the sold-out crowd of Fanilows, referencing the show's delayed opening after his bout with bronchitis. ''What a week. I have hacked up enough phlegm to float Fire Island,'' he said. ''It wasn't just the flu part. It was the Jewish guilt part.'' (Cue the adoring applause from the many octogenarian Jewish mothers who had ditched their walkers in the back of the orchestra section.)

Clearly, Manilow was determined to make up for the week of cancellations. He thrust his hips with awkward gusto, peppered song endings with hand gestures teetering dangerously close to jazz hands, and even led an unfortunate conga line. And if that was all he did, you could dismiss the production as an East Coast version of Vegas cheese. But Manilow, now 69, brought such a combination of tender personal moments, an easy connection to the audience, and a geniune elation to performing that you couldn't help but dance in the aisles or swing the glow-sticks handed out by ushers. (Well, at least Bravo-lebrities past and present Countess LuAnn, Carson Kressley, and Kelly Cutrone couldn't help themselves.)

''We've been friends for a long time, haven't we?'' he told the crowd at one point in his hour-and-a-half long performance. Indeed, at times it felt like he had invited you over to sing along with his classics. Without a TelePrompter and with some hilariously low-rent moments (as when he noticed an unadorned box of Kleenex perched on his keyboard), Manilow threw himself into familiar hits such as ''Looks Like We Made It,'' ''Copacabana,'' and ''I Can't Smile Without You.'' ''I love singing these songs!'' he exclaimed without a droplet of irony. (Less endearing was the computerized screen upstage that provided karaoke bar-worthy images of smiley faces or bananas.)

The shining moments all occured when Manilow abandoned his Vegas showman persona and sat down at the piano. His renditions of ''Even Now'' and ''I Am Your Child'' were beautifully tender. ''This One's For You'' followed a lovely story about Manilow's grandfather, Grandpa Joe, who used to take him into Manhattan to record him singing. And he was downright innovative singing backup for himself, as footage of him singing ''Mandy'' on a mid-'70s episode of Midnight Special played on the screen behind him. (Clive Davis, who introduced Manilow to the audience in that episode, was sitting front and center last night.) But the evening's highlight came when he belted out ''Weekend in New England.'' He had a hard time hitting some early notes between occasional coughs, but the audience started cheering for him. ''Still?'' he asked, clearly relieved that his fans love his song catalog as much as he does. ''I still got it!'' And closing the ballad, he held some of the tough notes so long you thought he might have a stroke. It may come as a shock to some, but yes, he's still got it. After all, he is music. B+

(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)

Originally posted Jan 30, 2013