Barry Manilow and Lorna Luft were at the Hollywood Bowl last weekend for two nights only, playing the hits for over two and half hours under the open sky and on the big stage, backed up by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Manilow’s outstanding back-up singers and band, and a choir adorned in purple gowns, added even more glitter and glitz to the star-studded night. During the National Anthem, I knelt.
Oh the big night sky, the glittering stars, the waxing moon! The movie star columns of light overhead from spotlights at this open-air venue! The show business legends! It was a night to remember.
Lorna Luft wore spangly blue and satin pink, and sang songs her mother, the incomparable Judy Garland, sang. I could hear Garland in Luft’s voice! She gave a charming overview of Garland’s career, which melded with the songs and medley Luft sang, including the powerful “The Man That Got Away.” My tears flowed as Luft exited the stage with hand-blown kisses and a sweep of her skirts, matter of fact glamour in the wave of her arm, efficient generosity, so much like her mother! Life goes too fast, even when it feels slow. When Manilow and Luft hugged, it looked like love.
My lifelong crush, Barry Manilow, a secret because it’s way too intimate, a secret maybe like why he kept his own sexual preferences private all these years. A secret, too, perhaps, because people have made fun of him, his show biz schlock and vanilla songs, many of which sound like commercial jingles, with their urgent happiness and catchy melodies (in fact, he did earn a living writing jingles, a couple of which he sang from the stage: a State Farm ditty, and one for Band-Aids).
When Manilow graced the stage I was surprised; I’ve never seen him in talk shows, because I kept the songs I love by him sacrosanct, away from flesh and fears; music is an ideal. Long-legged, in a royal blue tuxedo that glimmered, and that he two more times changed with other formal jackets that sparkled throughout his perfomance, Manilow appeared fun! His showmanship! His sense of humor! The way he looked on the big screens flanking the stage! The undeniable eros in his romance! His is a voice and a body made for stage and screen, that sexy panache, amplified yet intimate, some of it real, and some of it a put on. What does his real voice sound like? And does it matter? When he once briefly left the stage, my heart actually cried out, “Don’t leave!”
Oh how his music made me feel when I was young – and how it makes me feel now – listening to “Weekend in New England” and “Could It Be Magic.” And, apparently, the same goes for the massive audience, who waved their venue-given glow-sticks throughout the entirety of the show! Such expectant and intense silence with some of the slower songs, such applause after the songs end. When Manilow sang, “When can I touch you?” a group of women behind me replied loudly in unison, “Right now!” And, much to my surprise, it turns out men (not just Manilow) are sensitive, too; they stood up here and there in the huge crowd throughout the show, flinging out their arms in grand abandon, singing along to love songs that even I thought were hokey. But now I am a true Fanilow. I see the meaning in the mood: to ask for what you really want, to be romantic, to take a risk. To be “Ready To Take A Chance Again.” Manilow may not have written all the songs, but neither did we. What matters is that they’re sung. Elephantine emotion and the natural disaster of emotions not denied but controlled through the melodies that express them.
When he all of a sudden stood at the piano, during “Weekend in New England,” playing those gorgeous keys and singing into the microphone, he seemed filled with an emotion that the song expressed, that his singing at its best expresses: the potential unleashing of passion, and the effortful discipline it takes to articulate it persuasively.
Manilow tells us about his life, with the songs connecting life events, such as his love for his granddad and the song “This One’s For You,” which actually made me cry. He made us laugh when he described growing up in Brooklyn, which wasn’t “fancy schmancy” like it is now, but “crappy schmappy.” Our joy when he sang “Mandy”! And a show-stopping medley!
Born in 1943, and originally a composer and arranger, he debuted his own album in 1973. He reportedly asked Playboy whether he should follow his musical dreams or stay married to his high school sweetheart. Playboy advised him to “sow his wild notes.” Over the years, he’s accrued nine Top 10 singles on the pop charts, 12 No. 1 hits, and sold over 75 million albums. Fanilows include Dave Grohl, Bob Dylan, and Ol’ Blue eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Manilow produced albums for Bette Midler, Sara Vaughn, Dionne Warwick, and Nancy Wilson. His plentiful awards include two Emmys, a Grammy, and a Clio, with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That voice. He knows it’s not the range of the magnificent Donna Summer, whom he credits onstage for her disco rendition of “Could It Be Magic.” But the range he offers is an intimate baritone. So I do wish he’d sung that whole song, more slowly, like the Chopin that inspired it.
“With you, there’s a heaven/So earth ain’t so bad.” That’s right. Schlock or not, sometimes his songs and his voice reach that place of enchantment, taking you with him. “Come…Let me know the wonder of all of you,” he sings. Could it be magic? I think it is.