Barry Manilow remembers watching Frank Sinatra on stage many years ago, itching to hear Ol’ Blue Eyes sing his expansive catalog of hits. Instead, he heard a mix of the hits peppered with concert filler — the kind of songs that bring an audience to its feet, but for all the wrong reasons. They become an excuse to visit the concession stand. So when Manilow crafted his current show, “Manilow in Concert . . . Direct From Broadway,” which ran on Broadway this winter, he was determined to sidestep that mistake and give the audience what it paid for.
“I’m one of the lucky guys with a big catalog of familiar songs,” Manilow says on the phone from his home in Palm Springs, Calif. “So I’m doing as many of the familiar songs as I can squeeze in.”
This is the man who once claimed to write the songs, even those that make the young girls cry, so there is plenty to choose from. He racked up nearly 30 top 40 hits in a nine-year span, including karaoke club favorites “Copacabana (at the Copa),” “Can’t Smile Without You,” and, of course, “Mandy.” Manilow brings his Broadway show to Mohegan Sun Friday.
Q. I’m glad you’re on the road touring, but I once read that you were done with touring.
A. I’m done with touring with a capital “T.” The kind of tours when I was out for six weeks at a time. I decided to stop that, and tour with a lower-case “t” instead. I decided to stop when I got an offer to play Las Vegas, and, as you know, Las Vegas is close to Palm Springs. I would take a plane to Vegas, work my three nights there, and then come home. For the first time in 30 years I actually had a life again.
Q. I’m sure your fans are pleased . . .
A. That I’m still out there and not giving up? I think they are. I hope they are.
Q. I saw your Broadway show and you’re a funny, chatty guy. Is your interaction with a Broadway audience different than the one you had while touring with a capital “T”?
A. I’ve done that all of my career. Even when I was terrible in the beginning, and I really was terrible in the beginning. This performing career came out of the blue. I wasn’t really a professional entertainer. They threw me up on stage to promote an album that I somehow lucked into recording. I spent years in the background conducting, writing, and producing. Suddenly I found myself standing on a stage. I’ve always connected, or tried to connect, with an audience because I really didn’t know anything else to do.
It’s kind of scary to do that, by the way, to take down the fourth wall and just talk to a roomful of strangers. It’s much easier to crank up the volume and play your music.
Q. I know that you are a pretty private fellow. Did you have to think carefully about what you were comfortable sharing with folks?
A. I think anyone would be. But I never even think about that because most of my monologues are about the music. I don’t mention my dogs’ names, or my Aunt Rose. I usually keep it pretty close to the song. I don’t have to worry about that.
Q. I think Aunt Rose would be a perfect name for a dog. Anyway, how thrilling was it to do a run on Broadway?
A. It was probably one of the top three experiences of my career. I didn’t expect it to be because it was my third time on Broadway. I said to my manager, “Before I croak, I’d like to do it one more time.” I expected it to be fun, but I didn’t expect it to be as crazy and as thrilling as it was. It was like cousin Barry was back on stage. I felt like I was playing Passover dinner for my family.
Q. In that case, I’ll expect to hear “Dayenu” the next time I see you perform. Are there any of your hit songs that you wish you could ignore forever?
Q. Never? They’re all your lovely, lovely children?
A. Never. And if there were, I wouldn’t tell you. No, I’ll be honest. There was a year there where “Looks Like We Made It” was tough. I couldn’t find the truth in the song. I found myself thinking about other things while I was singing it. I was thinking, ‘This isn’t fair to the song. This isn’t fair to the audience.” I took it out of the show for about six months, and then when I put it back in it was all fresh. But I can’t tell you that I don’t look forward to performing them. Every year they have more meaning.Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.