BARRY MANILOW in concert; Tuesday evening at ParkWest (one performance only).Barry Manilow finally came back to town, and according to most of the Parkwest crowd, he brought all he owned - and then some.
Leading off the biographically tinged concert with "Sweet Life," Manilow began a non-stop musical and anecdotal dialogue with the concertgoers.
The exuberant crowd responded by throwing red roses to the stage (flowers were provided to female fans at the entry gate). Manilow, in an electric blue jacket, giggled back, "I feel like a bullfighter up here."
His story began with a concert section entitled "A View from the Bench." Profiling his rise to fame through story and song, Manilow demonstrated the "old song-old sound" squeeze of his first instrument, the accordion. "As soon as a kid could stand up in Brooklyn, the mamas and the grandmamas strapped the box on, and we all learned `Lady of Spain,' " Manilow reminisced. Barry warmed up the crowd with his comic rendition of contemporary hits dropping into the "old sound" of the accordion.
Admitting to a bit of youthful "geekiness," Manilow described his personality transformation with the nostalgic, "I Am Your Child," then "Ships That Pass in the Night."
The next biographical step was Broadway accompanist, playing for anyone willing "to guarantee the check would clear. I played for the good, the bad and the tone deaf," Manilow recounted. The crowd was moved to legitimate involvement in the show as Manilow described learning from the losers, audition after audition, in "The Other 99."
A Salt Lake nursing student named Ruth Ann joined Manilow on stage in a duet of `I Can't Smile Without You." The next golden oldie, "I Write the Songs," assured even the reluctant concertgoers that Manilow was indeed, in town with feeling and energy.
The trademark Manilow concluded the first section of the show with a tender, yet upbeat rendition of his first hit, "Mandy." Manilow has a way of sliding a willing crowd into his pocket - a sort of invitation to intimacy that is obviously general, but somehow comes across as very personal. But just when you're comfortable with the romantic rememberings, he cuts loose into an enthusiastic, even acrobatic performance of "I'm Your Man." Most of the crowd agreed.
The crowd - now that's another story. It was surprisingly diverse, with grandmas and grandpas seated next to toddlers on the people-packed hillside. Tourists came for something to do in Salt Lake. Utahns shared an American concert experience with a French exchange student and a French-speaking grandma from Montreal. Young professionals showed up because "Barry Manilow is simply a classic." A male college student "went against the grain to come up because Manilow puts on such a great show." A dad came with 4 little girls (2 his and 2 friends), because he thought "it was time for the girls to become Manilow fans."
Then there were those who were dragged, persuaded, or came because it may not be safe for wives and girlfriends to drive the canyon alone.
The real fans were the "Please, Barry, take me to Paradise," variety. Some cleared the hill from the previous night's concert to catch a glimpse of the 2:00 a.m. Manilow start-up. Others waited at the gate, beginning at 8:00 a.m., so they "wouldn't miss a minute" of the performance. These "obsessed" fans giggled through explaining that "just a look in those bay blue eyes made an entire day of nearly 100 degree weather worth it."
It was worth it to most, as Manilow reappeared in his trademark white tie and tails with "Sweet Heaven." Peeling off the tux, Manilow peeled out a duet, "Good Times Never Last," with the lusty-voiced Debra Bird.
The entire band and back-up crew wound up for a lengthy production number, "Hey, Mambo," from the "Swing Street" album. The audience chimed in, on cue, with their own "Hey, Mambo" retorts.
Lest the list of superlatives for the evening appear limitless, there was a definite glitch in the performance. Manilow's staging was set for a small, close-in group, obviously not for the expanse of the Park City mountainside. Manilow played to the front rows, almost oblivious to the crowd beyond. People higher on the hill (those who arrived after 6:00 p.m.), struggled to see the performer as he moved to the piano or down stage. Thus, there was continuous crowd movement, a jockeying for better seats through much of the performance.
Nevertheless, Manilow won over the crowd, despite their rocky seats, when he launched into the medley of "all" his hits. The singer acknowledged those "who had been dragged out tonight. You know who you are. For you, this section will be agony."
For everyone else, the romantic journey through vintage Manilow was worth waiting for. Energetic audience response for favorites, "One Voice," "Even Now," "Ready to Take a Chance," and "Made It Through the Rain," declared Manilow did, indeed, "Write The Songs the Whole World Sings," at least the mountain world at Parkwest. And some of the rest, though they won't be caught belting out a Manilow tune, at least reluctantly hum along.