Barry Manilow in person has the same heart-on-sleeve sentiment and, even more, the boyish earnestness that he offers his audience each night. He energetically talks about how fantastic iPhone’s standard recording app is for capturing sound (“It’s great. It is called Voice Memo, right? That’s what we use!”), and then effortlessly transitions into a detailed explanation of his offer to the public to trade used instruments for tickets to his show at Paris. Manilow donates the instruments to school music programs.
Manilow, fittingly, sees the stakes in music education as a lifeline to youth. “I come from a rough neighborhood in nowhere Brooklyn, New York. I went to a dump of a high school, but at least we had an orchestra. I wasn’t good at sports, and I did not want to join a gang. I joined the orchestra. That was my gang. And it set me on the way to where I am now.” So, when Manilow heard about budget cuts to school music programs around the country a couple years ago, “It just about killed me, because I would not be here if I did not have music in my young life.” After some pondering along the lines of “I am just one skinny singer, what can I do?” Manilow eventually up with the instrument exchange, now dubbed The Manilow Music Project.
Manilow’s own music continues with a new album in the works. On his forthcoming disc, Manilow reveals that he’s just like the rest of us, having spent time taking in the gruesome details of Lindsay Lohan’s life. “The new one is all original songs, called 15 Minutes, and it has an idea to it about fame. You see Lindsay Lohan and you know what goes on. You see all these kids who get hit in the face with fame. The songs are about fame, and can you handle it?”
Manilow’s voice takes on the quality of a world-weary veteran, not the energetic champion of school orchestras from a moment earlier, as he recalls the fame that came at the start of his hit-saturated career. “It was rough. It was rougher to be a success than it is to be a failure. They don’t teach you how to handle success. I was 29 when ‘Mandy’ hit. I was already Bette Midler’s musical director. Fame still knocked me off my feet. I can’t imagine younger kids with a No. 1 record. It knocks everyone off their feet, and some never make it back to be a well-rounded human being.”
Barry Manilow performs at Paris Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 3-5, 24-26, Oct. 1-3, 8-10, 15-17 and 22-23. $65-$250, 946-7000, manilowparis.com. Drop off new or gently used musical instruments at the Paris Theatre box office to receive show tickets.