It took a little while before Barry Manilow felt comfortable on Broadway.
The Man Who Makes the Whole World Sing is used to far bigger venues than the 1,710-seat St. James Theatre, one of the smaller theaters on the Great White Way.
“It’s a totally different feeling from the stage. I’m in their laps; they’re in my lap. It’s very, very intimate,” says Manilow. “This is like going to somebody’s house.”
Manilow - and his fans dubbed Fanilows - are clearly enjoying his first return to Broadway in nearly 25 years. Though his opening was postponed due to bronchitis, the singer sounded and looked great during a recent quick interview.
The New York City-born icon has had a street corner - at Seventh Ave. and 44th Street - temporarily renamed “Barry Manilow Way” and a caricature unveiled at Sardi’s restaurant.
It’s a long way from where he began in the neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brookyn, where “I was lucky to get home from school without getting beaten up.” He later moved to a Manhattan studio apartment so small that he had to sleep under his Steinway grand piano.
His two-hour show - makeup dates have been added to “Manilow on Broadway” that now take the show into early March - includes all the hits, including “Could It Be Magic,” “Mandy,” “Copacabana” and “Can’t Smile Without You.”
Manilow has sold over 80 million albums worldwide and this Christmas had a 50th hit - “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” - on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. “That was a nice Christmas present,” he says, sipping white wine.
Manilow says he keeps his show fresh by making sure the arrangements are contemporary. “Every few years, I go back into all the songs and I update them so that it never sounds like an oldies show. If you come to the shows, they’re full of muscle,” he says. “`Copacabana’ sounds like it could have been released yesterday.”
After Broadway, Manilow says he’ll continue doing weekend gigs on the road, working on two albums and is most excited at the idea of getting a new musical off the ground: “Harmony,” which follows a group of singers through Weimar-era and then Nazi Germany.
Manilow has written original songs for it and Bruce Sussman has contributed the story and lyrics. “It’s the best work I’ve ever done ever in my life,” Manilow says.
At 69, Manilow vows to keep on going.
“Yeah, I’m old as the hills and you would think I’d be out to pasture someplace because I’ve done everything, but nothing has changed,” he says. “I’m still hungry. I’ve still got a million ideas. I’m still strong and ready to create.”