thu 29/02/2024

An Audience With Barry Manilow, ITV1 | reviews, news & interviews

An Audience With Barry Manilow, ITV1

An Audience With Barry Manilow, ITV1

Manilow is marvellous, but did it need shouting quite so loud?

Barry Manilow: his fantasticness might not be acknowledged universally

This wasn’t going to offer any surprises. Bernadette Nolan, Lulu and Stacey Solomon would deliver the questions they’d rehearsed. Manilow would respond, then deliver the relevant song. He’s a charmer, and you’d have to be made of lead not to be lifted by some of his songs. But he didn’t need this audience and format. The interaction added nothing. His fantasticness doesn't need restating.

Barry Manilow will never be hip. His path is similar to Randy Newman’s, but his early liaison with Bette Midler always meant he was going to be broader, lean towards the bold, the brash. Answering a question about his breakthrough hit “Mandy” underlined this. A clip of the original song – “Brandy” – was played and he acknowledged it was good, but in his hands it became bigger, a swelling tribute to its subject. Thankfully the grandness was limited to the music. The ruffled Copacabana shirt was stored away and his outfit for the first half was a black shirt and white jacket, replaced by a sparkly black jacket during the second.

He’s orange. His face is wax-smooth. How could he be real?

He's got a way with the seemingly spontaneous. Getting up from his piano to take part in a mild dance routine he quipped, “Is there nothing he can't do?” It occasionally faltered. The sudden shift from “I only wanted to be a musician" to “I’ve got a new album out” jarred. After saying earlier that he’s most comfortable writing songs about situations, he said the new album, 15 Minutes, is about fame. Elsewhere he explained it’s inspired by the erratic path of Britney Spears. But he didn’t mention that last night. This could never dig in the way that his Desert Island Discs appearance did, but at least one extended exploration would have brought a balance.

Yes, he’s orange. His face is wax-smooth, with – apart from the Manilow nose – no angles. His poufed-up hair remained immobile. How could he be real? And the inevitable prefaces to each question acknowledge the unreality: “you've had an incredible career”, "your incredible career”, "you're amazing", “in Italy we think you’re fantastico”, “the songs you’ve written will live forever”. But a couple of mentions of mums as fans suggested his fantasticness might not be acknowledged universally. It doesn’t take the shine off, but it gently hints that Manilow isn’t for everyone.

Manilow was the musical director for Callback, a TV talent show. The former backroom boy hasn’t lost his approachability

Despite the constant reiteration of his marvellousness – how could we forget? – a chance to acknowledge his cyclical presence was missed. Lulu was in the audience. She sang with Take That on the 1993 hit "Relight My Fire". A year earlier they’d charted covering his “Could It Be Magic”. It begged for Lulu to say, “Barry, my good friends Take That hit with ‘Could It Be Magic’. Why do you think your songs are timeless?” But she didn’t.

“Could It Be Magic”, "Copacabana”, “Can't Smile Without You”, “Mandy,” "I Write the Songs”, "I Made It Through the Rain” are all wonderful and instantly familiar. Yet the studio audience only began clapping as he sang the first line of “Could It Be Magic”. The opening piano refrain brought no reaction. Strange.

Forty years ago Barry Manilow was the musical director for Callback, a TV talent show. He was also writing TV and radio ads. Before that he worked for CBS-TV as an editor. The relation between TV, music and Manilow is ingrained. Yet, whatever he looks like, the former backroom boy hasn’t lost his approachability. An audience of pre-primed celebs isn’t the best guide as to whether Manilow always makes the connection, but by now it doesn’t matter.

Watch Barry Manilow performing "Mandy" on German TV in 1975


He’s got a way with the seemingly spontaneous. Taking part in a mild dance routine he quips, 'Is there nothing he can't do?'

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