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More Sizzle Than Steak in Manilow’s Show

Barry Manilow allowed excessive theatricality to overshadow his music Thursday as he opened a four-night stand at the Greek Theatre. He devoted the first two-thirds of his show to glitzy musical-variety routines, and crammed most of his hits into a medley at the end. As a result, the show had a slick, shallow quality--crowd-pleasing, but ultimately hollow.

Of course, slick and shallow are words that have long been hurled at Manilow. But many of the singer’s hits--as the medley again demonstrated--convey tremendous drama and emotion. Songs such as the sublime “Even Now” and the biting “When I Wanted You” are among the best ballads of recent years. But they were given short shrift Thursday, while Manilow spent too much time on quasi-biographical sketches about his climb to fame and fortune. (The worst of the lot: a tacky bit where he wonders what it would have been like singing backup vocals as a Pip and a Supreme.)

It would be unreasonable to expect Manilow to abandon the showiness and sing only old hits such as “This One’s for You” and “Somewhere Down the Road.” (If he did, he probably wouldn’t be headlining four nights at the Greek 10 years after he hit his peak and nearly five years after he landed his last Top 40 hit.) It’s good that he’s trying to keep the show fresh rather than simply dwell on past glories. But in the interest of freshness, his show has lost much of its heart.

Manilow has always loaded his show with razzle-dazzle, but he used to balance the frivolity with heartfelt readings of great ballads. With most of the great old songs bunched together at the end of the show--and without new ones of similar depth and conviction to replace them--that balance is gone. These days, the singer seems more concerned with the sizzle than the steak.

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Manilow is scheduled to return to the Greek on Tuesday and Wednesday and to play at the Pacific Amphitheatre Friday and next Saturday.


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