Barry Manilow says audience banter a lost art

In this Nov. 10, 2008 file photo, Singer Barry Manilow poses for a portrait at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. Manilow says audience banter is a lost art. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ AP - Chris Pizzello

TORONTO - Barry Manilow famously writes the songs that make the whole world sing. And during his shows, he loves to tell audiences how those legendary tunes came about.

But the "Copacabana" hitmaker — who will take the stage about two hours north of Toronto at Casino Rama on Aug. 20 and 21 — thinks stage banter is becoming a lost art.

"I like telling the audience where the song came from ... I think it's interesting to an audience. I would like to see artists do more of that," Manilow said in a telephone interview this week.

"I've done that from my very beginnings, the very, very first show I ever did."

Manilow, 69, says he thinks audiences become more engaged when they know what is on his mind when he performs a certain song.

"I'd love to see other artists do that. I'd love to know more about other artists' lives and what they're thinking before they sing a song. Because after awhile it kind of gets numbing to go from one song, to the other song, to the next song, to the next song. I would love them to stop and say 'I was here when I wrote this' and 'my family was there.'

"Anyway, they don't (do it). I do."

Manilow is performing on the road again after a wrapping a long Las Vegas residency in December. While the audiences he encounters during tours are usually rabid fans, he says the crowds in Sin City were a "different breed."

"When I do these concerts around the country, most of the audiences, they're coming to my show and they've planned for it since the first ad came out. They save their money and they hire the babysitters and it's a big event.... Whether they're fans or not they know what they're there to see, they like the songs and they hope that I sing this one or that one," he said.

"In Vegas, most of the audiences were walk-up, meaning that they would get off the plane and say: 'Barry Manilow? He's still alive?Let's go see him.' That audience would be a totally different audience than any of the audiences that I'd ever played for. There were a lot of conventions. A lot of them really didn't know what I did up there. Most of them thought I sat at the piano and played ballads. It was a whole different way of performing for these people than I would if I was going on a concert tour."

Ever the showman, Manilow always has his audience in mind.

He's careful to keep his shows chock-full of his classic tunes, which include "Looks Like We Made It," "Can't Smile Without You" and "Mandy," while slipping in a few numbers from "15 Minutes," a critically acclaimed concept album he released last year about the perils of fame.

While his gig at Casino Rama will be indoors, hitting the road occasionally means an open-air venue, and that can come with a few challenges. Last summer, Manilow played Toronto's now defunct BlackCreek festival, but a torrential downpour just before showtime forced the concert to be rescheduled.

Insects, he says, can also be an issue.

"The bugs, they're a challenge to a performer because, you know, when the lights go down and the spotlights come on, the bugs go right to me.... There was one night where I was singing ... a lovely little ballad, very quiet. And a bug flew up my nose while I was in the middle of the ballad. And I didn't want to stop the ballad so I just parked him up there for a while."

"Most of the time the bugs are all over the piano and I sometimes keep a can of Raid around me so I can take care of them."

While it doesn't sound like he's planning another album like "15 Minutes" anytime soon, the show-biz legend doesn't sound the slightest bit tired of performing for his fans.

Says Manilow: "I just like to connect with an audience. It's the only thing I've ever been interested in. I like to get to know them and I like them to get to know me."