Q&A: Barry Manilow
The iconic singer and songwriter Barry Manilow last performed in Las Vegas at the Paris Theater for two years, but before that he spent 2005 to 2010 singing in the historic International Theater at the Las Vegas Hilton. He’s returned to the legendary property, now Westgate Las Vegas, for a brand-new residency production dubbed Manilow Las Vegas: The Hits Come Home, and he couldn’t be more excited to be back onstage in one of his favorite cities. I spoke with Manilow about the comfy confines of his Vegas home, what’s new with his show and what hasn’t changed regarding his love affair with music.
Your music is some of the first music I experienced, specifically listening to my mom’s copy of This One’s For You as a very young child. Do people say things like this to you a lot?
Yeah, they do, and I couldn’t be happier that my music has withstood time and had that kind of impact on people. Because what happens to all young artists that become successful overnight is [that] I was getting killed by the critics. I mean, killed. They tried to annihilate me and my music. And then as the years go by things being to change, and then I hear stuff like this, that while I was getting killed there was a whole batch of people who were loving what they were hearing. While it was happening, I didn’t realize that. I just had to believe it was good.
Has your creative process and methods of songwriting changed over the years?
No, I don’t think it has. I’m a melody guy. I miss the melodies on the radio. Sure, there’s one or two now and again but these days it’s all about rhythm and it’s wonderful, irresistible, but I come from the world of music and lyrics and I do miss that. My writing style is the same as it has always been. I try to come up with as good a melody as I can and as great a lyric as I can. The hardest thing about writing a song is always the idea. What is it about? What do you want the song to say? When you figure that out, writing the song is fun and that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way I render the music. I’m very good with my computer and the machines we use to make music these days. And I still do it myself. I record my own vocals by myself, without an engineer, then I bring in an orchestrator and go into Capitol Records. But the lion’s share is just me by myself in front of my computer, writing and arranging.
The Westgate—where you performed when it was still the Las Vegas Hilton—has done a lot to recapture the excitement of a great Las Vegas entertainment legacy. Was that a big factor in your decision to return to the stage there?
Yes. I’m so glad they haven’t touched the showroom. If you put long tables in that room instead of the theater seating, it would take you back to the days of Sinatra and Dean Martin. Showrooms just don’t look like that anymore and they even kept the name of the International Theater. Barbra [Streisand] opened it followed by Elvis, and everyone from Aretha Franklin to Michael Bublé has played that stage. Even when I walk out for soundcheck, it really does feel like a very special place. And there are a lot of seats but it always feels intimate. I’ve been on the road for so many years playing for 10,000 people in arenas and that’s wonderful, but what I like to do most is connect with audiences. You can do that in an arena but it’s much easier and more powerful in a smaller room, and that’s what I love about the International.
What kind of adjustments have you made to your show and your song selection?
It’s interesting now. About five years ago things started to change in the audience, where before that you could do more album cuts. And I’ve had so many different albums and concepts, from big band to showtunes to jazz. I could do any of them and everyone would be happy. But then I realized some of [those songs] weren’t going over like they used to, that the audiences wanted to hear the hits. I would try to throw in an album cut and they’d be okay with it but then I’d do “Can’t Smile Without You” and the roof would cave in. They were telling me what they wanted. As the audiences have grown older and younger, they want to hear the songs they know and I’m happy to do that, so I’ve changed my show around with most of the songs being familiar and that’s what I’m planning on doing. Maybe I’ll throw one or two in just for me.
Are you hoping this Westgate residency turns into a long-term situation?
I haven’t even thought about that yet, I’ve just been soaking in it and putting the show up and making those changes from what I do on the road. There’s some additional production I wanted to do that we can do in this show. But I’m planning on being there forever. We started at the Hilton for one year and would up with five years, so who knows what happens. If nobody comes, they’ll throw me out. (Laughs.)