ORLANDO — If anyone needed evidence that the 1970s can evoke a tremendously strong and upbeat sense of nostalgia, and that the decade wasn’t simply a complete downer with Vietnam, Watergate, long gas lines, inflation and the like, you should have been at the Amway Center on Saturday night, when one of the decade’s favorite hitmakers proved he could still delight a crowd.
“A few months ago I turned 35,” singer and songwriter Barry Manilow teased, then added, “Double!” It was toward the end of the crooner’s 90 minute concert, and he admitted that it actually felt quite good to still be on stage, appearing before large audiences like the one at the Amway – exactly four decades after he scored his first #1 hit in 1974 with “Mandy.”
Looking fit and trim, wearing a black shirt and pants and a red vest, Manilow joked, “I never thought I’d get this old.”
But he also reminded the audience that he still makes new albums, including “The Greatest Love Songs of all Time” in 2010, and that in 2013 he embarked on a new project, writing the music for a stage musical called “Harmony,” which had a run at Atlanta’s Alliance Theater and is now heading to Los Angeles.
With all that to keep him busy, Manilow quipped, “I never thought I’d get this old.”
Age aside, Manilow keep the concert lively, opening with his hit “It’s A Miracle” (which he repeated at the closing of the show). “It’s going to be magic tonight,” he said as the song ended.
He went through a litany of his chart-topping songs, including “Could It Be Magic,” “Even Now,” and “Looks Like We Made It,” before concluding with a trio of his best known hits, “Mandy,” “Copacabana,” and “I Write The Songs.” He opened “Mandy” with a video showing one of his earliest television appearances playing the song in the 1970s, before taking over the medley live on stage.
“I love singing these old songs,” he said. “I hope you enjoy listening to them.”
But the music was only one aspect of the concert. Manilow spent a lot of time talking with the audience, on a variety on topics. He joked about the fact that he was holding a concert in Orlando – and there was none of that tropical weather that Florida is known for.
“Hey, what’s with the weather?” he said. “What happened to Florida in January – it’s freezing out there. But you came to the right place, I’m going to heat you up. We could be here all night.”
They weren’t, as it turned out – Manilow came on stage around 7:45 p.m., and performed until 9:15 – prompting one exiting guest to point out that this was the earliest she had even gotten out of a concert at the Amway.
But Manilow was in fine form throughout the night, and when the women in the audience swooned during one of his love songs, he yelled out “I’ve still got it!”
He also pointed out that his album “Even Now” had achieved huge success, noting “I had an album with five hit singles. I was the Justin Bieber of the 1970s!”
He had plenty of comical moments, including showing the cover of his first album, “Barry Manilow” from 1973 – “which I did in 1821,” he quipped — and as the cover was projected onto the video screen at the back of the stage, Manilow said he couldn’t even look at it anymore.
“My first album sold five copies, and I know why,” he said. Noting the long hair that was a trademark of the 1970s, he added, “I looked like the Mona Lisa up there.”
Manilow also had his own nostalgia moments, recalling growing up in Brooklyn, and how his grandfather used to take him to a commercial booth that let them record a 45 record. He even played one of the records they made, which captured his grandfather urging the very young Manilow to hurry up and talk because the machine was now recording.
Manilow also asked the audience to help out with a special project he had started, to donate musical instruments to high school orchestra programs that are being cut back in tough economic times. He noted that his own life dramatically changed when he joined the orchestra program at his high school in Brooklyn.
“Even though I went to a dump of a high school, they had an orchestra class that changed my life,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here tonight if it wasn’t for that orchestra class in Brooklyn.”
Sadly, he said, music is considered less important to many schools today. “They’re cutting orchestra classes all over the country,” he said. “It’s driving me crazy.”
To help those young aspiring musicians, Manilow noted that he had started the Manilow Music Project, to provide instruments to local schools.
“Music will change a kid’s life like it did mine,” he said.
He also urged the audience to chase their dreams, and if they’re doing something now they don’t like, give it up, he said, and follow your heart.
“I left Brooklyn and it was scary, but look what I got – I got you,” he said.
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