Review of 'Manilow: Live in London!'

Barry Manilow

manilow.jpg https://www.theo2.co.uk/events/detail/barry-manilow

We really enjoyed Barry Manilow when we saw him in Hyde Park in 2009 as part of “Proms in the Park”. He has such a wonderful voice and is so much fun, never taking himself too seriously. When an offer came up on tickets to his concert at the O2 in London we jumped at the chance to see him again.

There were very thick looking programmes available at £15 as well as various CDs and a calendar. On entering the O2 we were given glow sticks and 3D glasses for the show. The auditorium itself had the top balcony (circle) closed off completely with a large black curtain making the venue feel a lot smaller and more intimate which better suits Manilow.

The show started a few minutes after the scheduled time with a 30 minute performance from Collabro, a UK-based four-man group of singers who won Britain's Got Talent in 2014. Their set featured a number of pop-classics including a number of pieces from modern musicals Grease (“Grease is the Word”), The Greatest Showman (“Never Enough”), Wicked (“Defying Gravity”), and Les Miserables (“Stars”). Included was a tribute to Manilow himself (and performed with his permission) “One Voice”. There was also a short tribute to the Jersey Boys including “Oh, What a Night”. The singing was generally quite thin with a lot of vibrato making it often a bit grating (for myself). Unfortunately with a close harmony group their spread chords often meant each singer sang their part seemingly unsupported and often a singer would seem to be singing outside of their comfort zone. Ok, but not great.

A short 30 minute interval followed their performance where a former star from Eastenders vainly attempted to entertain the crowed but also did a draw for two tickets to see Manilow's new show in Las Vegas. The best part of his performance was where he gave the first few words of a television jingle to see if the audience knew the next works and no matter how far back into the past he went, the crowd knew the next words without any problems (seeming to forget a large portion of the crowd were OAPs).

At 8:30 Manilow came on the stage and the evening stepped up an order of magnitude in quality. His charm and charisma instantly won over the crowd who sang throughout his performance (at one point appearing suddenly from off stage in a new outfit he quiped “scared the s*** out of you, didn't I?”, at another looking at a picture of his younger self “I look like Taylor Swift on a bad hair day”, or another “age doesn't matter unless you're a banana and mine is working just fine”). His show had an air of a Las Vegas review with at least four different costume changes (starting with a smart black outfit with glimmering gold jacket) and a mixture of tunes to keep everyone entertained. He oozed class throughout including bringing on Collabro to thank them for their supporting act.

The performance was nostalgic with the focus often being on his grandfather who he credits with having started his musical career by insisting he had musical talent. Growing up in Brooklyn he recalls his grandfather taking him to a “record your voice on vinyl” shop in Times Square to attempt to get him to record “Happy Birthday” but never being successful. Manilow played a few minutes of the 10-minute recording with the grandfather gently trying to get anything out of the young child. Another point he played a video clip from “Midnight Special”, one of his first television performances in 1975 where he sang “Mandy” which was made all the more touching when Manilow joined in live on the stage dueting with his younger self.

Manilow frequently expressed his gratitude to London as it was the place that gave him his first big break when he performed in 1978 at the London Palladium for what was supposed to be two nights but eventually stretched to two weeks. His performance for us was his 23rd tour of the UK.

The three backing singers and the live band were seldom featured in the evening as it was unashamedly about the man himself however their support was amazing as they faded into the background allowing us to enjoy his voice.

Later in the evening Manilow took us on a 3D trip through New York which was all a bit of fun and quite effective despite the screens appearing quite small to us from our seats on the far end of the auditorium. At 75 he has a lot energy which he touched on suggesting that the only thing he remember from his grandfather at age 75 was his spitting of phlegm. Manilow's voice showed no signs of failing throughout the evening. He still has got it, sure, ok, perhaps some of the extreme ends of the range are a big ragged but his tone is still soft and mellow – Lovely to listen to.

The last song performed was, of course, Copacabana which got the audience on their feet as he thanked us for the evening complete with a giant disco ball hanging from the ceiling of the auditorium.

The show finished at 10:10 with no encore but the crowd was very happy and satisfied not being overly demanding that Manilow return to the stage.

Throughout the performance there were problems with the audio which I felt was unbalanced (though my companion disagreed). Occasionally there would be feedback from the microphone which my companion suggested was because of the distance that Manilow held the microphone away from his mouth. He was obviously uncomfortable with the way the piano was set up early on as he requested the audio monitor setup for it be replaced (which, to be fair, was accomplished very quickly by the stage crew).

Generally, an amazing performance from a legend. Fun and pleasant throughout, though disappointing supporting acts which felt so incredibly far out of the league of Manilow. All in all, a really nice evening.

Rating:

Review Date: 2018-09-06



London O2 Arena

Location: London (England)

Address: Peninsula Square, London SE10 0DX ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE North Greenwich

Telephone: +44 (0)20 8463 2000

URL: http://www.theo2.co.uk/

Originally the “Millennium Dome”, this was the site of an exhibit during the millennium which then fell into disuse for quite a number of years before being re-purposed as a multi-purpose venue with the massive 20,000 seat “arena” taking up the majority of the space under the dome (when inside the arena you cannot see any of the large tent above you - it is just a large…arena). Under the tent and surrounding the arena are a number of restaurants (some are not that bad), a cinema and a few other smaller entertainment venues. The restaurants now extend to other buildings surrounding the O2.

Seating can be problematic here which is typical for such large arenas. As it is rectangular and artists perform at the one end visibility and cramped necks are an issue. Ideal seating is in the first, ground level of seats but NOT in front the stage (unless you are in the first few rows the person sitting in front of you is going to block your view). Cheaper seats in the second level are quite steeply raked and it can also get hot up there.

Food in the arena itself is quite expensive and you are not allowed to bring in external drinks unless you remove the lids (and they are, of course, non-alcoholic). In fact, any drinks you purchase on site have their lids removed, evidently to avoid the bottle being used as a weapon.

Getting in and out of the arena is generally extremely good with the proximity of the tube station on the Jubilee line (running high capacity trains) very helpful in quickly allowing people to leave. If attending an event on the weekend be sure to check if there are any engineering events though as this has been known to happen during popular performances…