Review: Barry Manilow offers endless goodbyes in farewell show at Tampa's Amalie Arena
Here’s the thing about the songs of Barry Manilow: Each one sounds like a closer.
Each song sounds like an end-of-the-night embrace, all sap and schmaltz and see-you-when-I-see-you as the credits start to roll. Each one’s also a crescendo, swelling and leapfrogging keys until it leaps from the ledge into an ocean-sized ovation.
And so you wonder: With a songbook like that, how in the world does Barry Manilow say goodbye?
On Thursday at Amalie Arena, it was Tampa’s turn to find out. Manilow’s in the midst of his long-running farewell tour, a trek around the globe he’s calling "One Last Time!," with an exclamation point to emphasize he means it. And just under 8,000 glowstick-waving fans turned out to send him off.
At 72, Manilow may be ready to get off the road, but up on stage, he’s no retired man walking. In concert, he still clings joyfully to his sense of old-world showmanship, a commitment to the spotlight and the audience that feels yanked from yesterday, yet still carries water today.
Entering from behind an enormous red curtain, and backed by a band of at least 10, Manilow opened with the upbeat It’s a Miracle and sweet sing-along Daybreak, and led the house in a chorus of Can’t Smile Without You, sung karaoke-style with a smiley-face emoji bouncing across the lyrics.
Here and there, he’d call in a little backup. For the autobiographical Brooklyn Blues, he brought out opener Dave Koz to play sax. And on Could it Be Magic, he brought a lady up on stage to dance, a middle-aged Fanilow who came all the way from Maryland.
“I came to get out of the snow,” she told him. “I came to see you and warm up.”
Manilow’s music always was good for a hug, particularly whenever he took a seat at the piano. Even Now and Weekend in New England started off all sparse and delicate and elegant, with Barry all by himself at the keys, tinkling away, before the songs got so big you could feel the ovation start to build. The classic Mandy, too, started out looking back, with an old clip of young Barry at the piano, performing the hit in its heyday, before he re-emerged in a white suit to close it out with panache.
These are old cards played by an old pro’s pro, and for Manilow, a professional if ever there was one, it works every time – even when it doesn’t. After briefly reminiscing about all his trips to Tampa (“We’ve been friends for a long time. Thanks for coming tonight. Thanks for all the years.”), he veered into an a cappella intro to I Made It Through The Rain that started out all kinds of shaky. But by the end, once again, the band's massive chords kicked in and rattled around the rafters, and those diehards leaped up once again, proving once again there’s no hole a good Barry Manilow song can’t get help you escape.
One after the next, he’d knock 'em out like clockwork – chorus, ovation, chorus, ovation. And that was before he hit the medley that spanned more than four decades.
“For those of you who have enjoyed the music over the years, I think you’re gonna like this medley,” he said. “And for those of you who were dragged here tonight, this medley is going to be maddening.”
Then came 16 minutes of Manilow, an epic onslaught of memories delivered measure by measure by measure – One Voice, Ships, The Old Songs, Read ‘Em and Weep, Bandstand Boogie – that ended with a red-robed choir backing Barry on I Write the Songs.
Manilow had a couple more songs up his sleeve – the shimmy-shimmy Cocoa Puff Copacabana (At the Copa), a reprise of It’s a Miracle capped off with a shower of streamers. And that was all he wrote – after 80 minutes, the man with the endless string of closers was gone, maybe for the final time in Tampa.
How does a man like Manilow say goodbye? On his own terms, it seems, with a show on the shorter side that surely left the crowd wanting more. In a night chock-full of closers, no one would’ve minded one more for the road.
But you know how these farewell tours tend to go. Maybe if we're lucky, he’ll get us on the next one.
-- Jay Cridlin