Barry Manilow, London's O2 Arena, review: a show of giddy flamboyance that shows no sign of fading with age

Barry Manilow performs live on stage at The O2 Arena on September 6, 2018
Barry Manilow performs live on stage at The O2 Arena on September 6, 2018 Credit:  Brian Rasic

It seems as if a whole generation of musical legends are bringing their careers to a close. Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Elton John and Joan Baez are amongst the septuagenarian superstars who have recently announced an end to touring. 

Barry Manilow already retired, bidding farewell on 2015’s One Last Time tour. But like the showbiz trouper he clearly is, he's already back for more. “You know, I really didn't think we were going to be back here,” he told London's packed O2 Arena. “But I'm so glad we are.”

Rumour has it that accountancy problems inspired such a swift return to the stage but, even if that is the case, there is no sense of duress or begrudgement in his performance.

Indeed, quite the opposite. Manilow has never exactly been the retiring kind, at least  not in the shy sense of the word.

This is a show of giddy flamboyance, packed with big singalong hits, delivered with glittery panache and underpinned by a deep emotional connection between performer and fans.

He must have had more than his fair share of standing ovations over five decades on the road but he still managed to look genuinely moved when the audience rose to roar and stamped their feet for the big notes that ended Even Now. 

Barry Manilow, performing Thursday night aged 75 Credit:  Brian Rasic

His voice has dropped a touch but not unattractively so. When he duets with footage of his younger self on his 1974 hit Mandy, there is an appealing gravity to the deeper timbre of his mature vocal.

You can't even say he looks his age at 75, because his face has been so smoothed out with surgery that he actually looked like a kind of mannequin of himself.

The stiffness of his movements may have added to that strange impression but he performed with such delight and vigour that, over the two hour show, the years melted away.

Age only matters if you're a banana, and my banana’s doing fine.Barry Manilow

“Age only matters if you're a banana,” he joked. “And my banana’s doing fine.”

Since the last time he was in the UK, Manilow has come out as a gay man.

I suspect this would have only come as a surprise to those who never realised he was supposed to be in the proverbial closet in the first place. He has always been a flamboyantly camp icon and the loyal ladies at the O2 continued to roar jokey, lusty approval at every risque line or double entendre.

There was such a cheer when he took off his jacket, Manilow shook his head and sighed “Wait til I take off my pants.”

Manilow has always stood out from mainstream pop culture Credit: Andrew Benge/Redferns

All this cabaret patter is only a way of keeping things bubbling between one big song after another. He promised his audience a night full of “something I don't hear on the radio any more: melody.”

And with songs of the quality of Could It Be Magic, Copacabana and Can't Smile Without You he delivered in spades.

Even at the height of his Seventies pop fame, Manilow stood outside of mainstream pop culture, impervious to trends and fashions, making music rooted in classic Broadway showtunes.

Over the years, Manilow’s schmaltzy style has been the butt of many jokes. He himself quipped about his music always being heard in dental surgeries: “As long as there are teeth my songs will survive.”

The truth is that as long as he keeps putting on shows with this much zest and vigour, his music is in no danger of fading out.