When singer/songwriter Barry Manilow came to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto earlier this month as part of his first Canadian tour in 15 years, many of his fans considered it a miracle (to paraphrase a Manilow hit song) that the 1970s chart-topper has ventured outside Las Vegas to perform at all.
“When I agreed to perform in Las Vegas in 2000, I thought I said
goodbye forever to touring,” said Manilow in a telephone interview. “I
loved the audiences, but hated the long journeys by plane and staying
“But I missed seeing fans in Canada and elsewhere, so I agreed to do a series of one-night arena shows, which will be a little longer than the Vegas shows. Our show will have all the spectacular highlights of the Music and Passion shows that I do in Vegas,” he said.
Those who heard him will be impressed that Manilow, who turned 65 on June 17, still has an impeccable voice that resonates with emotion. And audiences at his arena shows thus far are so familiar with Manilow’s 25 top 40 songs from the 1970s, including Copacabana, I Write The Songs and Weekend In New England, that many sang along with him.
Manilow, who has sold more than 75 million records, loves sentiment and nostalgia. A highlight of the concerts will therefore be Manilow recalling his love for his late grandfather, Joseph Manilow, while singing I Made It Through The Rain.
“Grandpa coaxed me to sing Happy Birthday to my cousin in a Manhattan record-your-voice store when I was a toddler, and I wouldn’t sing until years later.
“When I became a star in 1974, Grandpa gave me my first standing ovation and I was so nervous – but I knew that he was proud to see me at Carnegie Hall. How proud he was of seeing his grandson’s star just blocks from the old record-your-voice studio,” Manilow said.
Manilow’s willingness to share his emotional vulnerability is what makes him so endearing. Despite being a multimillionaire, he has never forgotten his humble roots, knowing there would have been no career without Grandpa and others in his life.
His grandfather was the dominant male figure in the young Barry’s life. Manilow was born in Brooklyn as Barry Alan Pincus, but his parents (a Jewish mother, Edna Manilow, and an Irish Catholic father, Harold Pincus) were divorced when Barry was two, and Pincus and his son never bonded from that point on.
Manilow was raised by his mother and grandparents Esther and Joseph Manilow, Jewish immigrants from Russia who lived in a small Williamsburg apartment. Barry changed his surname to Manilow shortly before his bar mitzvah out of love for his zaide.
He began his musical education on the accordion and refined it on the piano that he received as a bar mitzvah gift. “I hated the accordion. It seems that every Jewish kid had to play one. But when I played the piano, I knew music would be my passion and my ticket out of Brooklyn.”
For a time, things were dire for Manilow financially and emotionally. He nearly went bankrupt twice and had married and divorced his high school sweetheart by the age of 25.
But he knew the craft of songwriting. For a time he coached singers wanting to audition on Broadway and was the musical director for Bette Midler. Manilow produced Midler’s first album, as well as many more for several singers, before starring on his own in 1973 and developing a large fan base over the years.
In addition to his many hit songs, Manilow also wrote the music for two musicals, Copacabana and Harmony.
Harmony, a musical set in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, is based on the real-life story of The Comedian Harmonists, a group of three Jews (one a rabbi) and three non-Jews who were a popular singing group in Europe.
The story, a mixture of comedy and drama, recalls how the group fell apart when they returned to Nazi Germany in the late ’30s and disbanded because of the Holocaust.
“The story is uplifting and may mean more to me because my relatives went through the Holocaust. [It has] songs that I wrote from Jewish cantorials and klezmer music.”
Harmony has never had the same success as Manilow’s other projects, despite receiving positive reviews when the play debuted in San Diego in 1997, and despite many attempts by Manilow to stage it on Broadway, the play has not been seen in over a decade.
“It’s frustrating, because what is artistically good is not necessarily a commercial success. I am not producing Harmony anymore, but there are some producers that are willing to try again, and I hope Harmony can still come to Broadway. To this day, Harmony is the project in my career that I am most proud of.”