Barry Manilow thrills fans at D.C.’s Warner Theatre

This story was updated on Sept. 16 at 11:30 a.m.

Barry Manilow spends most of his time immersed in Las Vegas glitz these days and doesn’t have many visible body parts left that don’t look as if they’ve been nipped and/or tucked. But Manilow has never seemed more genuine than at the Warner Theatre on Wednesday.

Manilow led his orchestra through a 90-minute set of obscure album tracks and massive radio smashes, and he discussed his oldest and newest songs. Everything worked fabulously.

Before getting everybody crying with “I Am Your Child,” a ballad that appeared on Manilow’s little-listened-to first album in 1973, he told of growing up in Brooklyn and having his grandfather take him to Times Square every weekend to work on his music. Manilow played a crackly recording of himself as a 4-year-old singing Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy,” and he said Grandpa paid a quarter to have it made. With the recording still playing, he sat behind an electric keyboard and joined his young self live.

Die-hard members of Manilow’s fan base, dubbed the Fanilows, let themselves be heard in what was an intimate space for a guy who filled arenas for the past several decades. During a theater-wide singalong of “Can’t Smile Without You,” Erica Land, a woman old enough to remember that tune’s first run on pop radio back in 1978 ran to the front of the stage waving a “Pick Me!” sign. Manilow wasn’t conducting any sort of contest at the time but rewarded her nonetheless by handing her his microphone and letting her take a few bars’ worth of lead vocals. Another supporter of similar vintage and devotion in the first row wildly waved a placard saying, “I’ve waited 35 years for this!” until Manilow acknowledged her.

Manilow introduced “Bring On Tomorrow,” a tear-jerker from “15 Minutes,” his latest release and his first collection of original material in a decade. Manilow then reprised 1974’s “Mandy,” his first hit single and a song whose chorus and bridge remain as deviously catchy as any of the commercial soundtracks the former jingle writer ever concocted.

Manilow has just become the primary pitchman for atrial fibrillation awareness, and he told the audience that, while in Washington, he’ll lobby on Capitol Hill to drum up interest in the condition, which causes an irregular heartbeat. Before covering the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” Manilow talked about being chronically afflicted by the sickness, but he issued himself a clean bill of health.

“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I still look good, and I’m horny!”

The Fanilows near the stage acted as if their tickers skipped a beat as he said that, but no need to worry about them, either. Blame it on Manilow, not AFib.

McKenna is a freelance writer.

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