For as corny as this may sound, I made it through the rain Thursday night to experience "Barry Manilow: Manilow on Broadway" at Memorial Coliseum. I thought the thunderstorms would keep people away, but Fanilows, as they are affectionately called, braved the storms to see Manilow perform his first concert here in about a dozen years.
Thursday night's concert was the first of his newest tour resulting from his recently ended Broadway show, in which Manilow sang hits from his diverse repertoire. Manilow is well-known for "Mandy," "Could It Be Magic," "Looks Like We Made It," "Can't Smile Without You," "This One's For You" and "I Write the Songs," and he sang all of those and more to more than 5,000 people.
Anyone familiar with Manilow's lengthy career (30-plus years) in the music business knows the two-hour show was merely a snippet of his life's love - music - of which he spoke so fondly during and between songs.
He spoke about growing up in a tough area of Brooklyn and how his Grandpa Joe introduced him to music at a young age. He spoke about how his high school orchestra class kept him out of gangs. "Can you imagine me in a gang?" he asked the crowd.
He also spoke about the Manilow Music Project, which puts musical instruments into the hands of students. Audience members who donated a musical instrument received two free tickets to the concert, and about 50 instruments were collected locally through this initiative.
Now, if it seems Manilow spoke a lot, he did. He was suffering from laryngitis and, possibly, a cold, which limited his singing ability. "Even Now" was cut short and his voice cut out on the end of "I'm Your Child," a dedication to his Grandpa Joe.
He was able to belt out a couple of songs in true Manilow style. One was from his new musical "Harmony," which will open in September in Atlanta. He gave that song his all, and the crowd responded in kind with a standing ovation.
Sitting in Section 218, I viewed one of the two available jumbotrons close to my seat. At times I noticed he could hardly keep his eyes open and he seemed stiff, while performing. At one point after announcing he had taken Sudafed and Robitussin, he said, "I feel great."
The audience felt great, too. This concert was a step down memory lane for a lot of the crowd. Mary and Gene Zell, who sat next to me, came from Miller, Ind., outside Gary. They have attended about 200 of Manilow's shows and have traveled as far as California to see him.
The audience sang along with many of Manilow's songs, such as "Can't Smile Without You," as they waved green glow sticks in the darkness of the coliseum. The Zells were no exception and passed some to my husband and me.
In spite of his illness, Manilow was able to laugh at himself and remained the consummate showman, and the audience loved every bit of it. The screen behind him showed past album covers while he performed songs from their titles, scenes of his native New York and film clips. The audience went wild during "Bandstand Boogie," in which footage of his "American Bandstand" appearance with Dick Clark aired. He kidded about his looks and performed a duet with footage of an early performance, which was choreographed rather well.
At one point, I teared up because I grew up with these songs which came from a more innocent time. For two hours, I didn't think about bombings or explosions. I only thought of my youth and about how much I enjoyed these songs.
The two hours went by so fast. It reminded me of time spent with an old friend. At one point Manilow said to crowd, while sitting on a stool at center stage, "We've been friends for a long time, haven't we?" Yes, we have.