Whether or not you are a Barry Manilowfan, you are familiar with his music. You may not own a CD or listen to radio stations that play his music, but you've still heard it and chances are, you've sung along or hummed to it.
As a Barry Manilow fan since he burst on the music scene with his first hit, "Mandy", I have collected nearly every CD and DVD he has produced. I've seen him in concert approximately 30 times in various parts of the USA and the UK, so I feel I have a little more than average knowledge when it comes to his performances and merchandise.
Produced by Stiletto Television, "First & Farewell" is a 2 DVD set released in 2006. At the beginning of each DVD, Barry talks about his career, from the early days as Bette Midler's pianist, until now. The first DVD shows Barry as a young, unpolished performer as he rehearses for his very first tour in November, 1974. The video is black and white and was filmed from the back of the room, so there are no close-ups of Barry, his band or backup singers. The sound is far from being the excellent quality we expect today. This is similar to a home movie from that time period. Though you can't see Barry's face, you can see him moving around, mostly behind the piano, where he felt the most safe and secure. He is awkward and nervous, talking fast with his Brooklyn accent and the enthusiasm he still exudes today. This first DVD lasts 62:23 minutes and will be more appealing to die-hard fans. Though not a polished performer at that time, he already showed the vocal talent that soon made him a superstar.
There are 14 songs on the rehearsal DVD, including the "VSM", which includes nine different commercial medleys.
Some of those early songs are still performed by Barry today. They include the upbeat, "It's a Miracle" and the moving romantic ballad, "Could it Be Magic". Also included is an entertaining medley of his commercial hits that most of us know or remember, though you probably had no idea that Barry had anything to do with them. The performance is called, "VSM" which stands for "Very Strange Medley". Just a few of the companies he created or sang on commercials for are: McDonalds, ('You Deserve a Break Today'), State Farm ('Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is There'), Pepsi ('Join the Pepsi People') and the still popular, Band-Aid ('I am Stuck on Band-Aid Brand, Cause Band-Aid's Stuck on Me'). As I said at the beginning of this review, you're aware of his music, whether you know it or not.
The second DVD from "First & Farewell" was not planned as a concert video to be released. This was filmed during the last big tour he planned to do and was recorded to document that. The concert is 117:57 minutes long and was held in the round, so Barry is not always facing the camera, but personally, I hardly noticed that. Instead, I was immediately drawn into the music and the performance, which was magnificent. In 1990, Rolling Stone Magazine named him "The Showman of our Generation" and it's easy to understand why. Barry's shows are consistently excellent. He puts so much emotion into every ballad that he makes you believe he is feeling the words he is singing. He has become an incredibly polished performer who connects with his audience both through humor (mostly at his own expense) and music.
"Weekend in New England", "Copacabana", "Even Now", "Brooklyn Blues" and "Somewhere Down the Road" are just a few of the songs on the concert DVD. As always, Barry is full of energy and personality as he delights the viewer with everything from gut- wrenching love songs to high energy dance numbers. His backup singers and band are excellent. Twenty-five songs are included in the concert, plus there are three bonus songs. One bonus song is "Chicago", a tribute to Frank Sinatra. The two other bonus songs were written for a Broadway musical that Barry has collaborated on for years. Though you won't find them on any CDs other than a live version, they are definitely worth hearing, especially "Every Single Day", a moving song about a couple who plan to marry, but the woman is having second thoughts. As he does with other ballads, Barry sings this with such emotion that you might feel that it's his own life he's singing about.
Barry Manilow's "First & Farewell" is very entertaining, even if it isn't a video that was originally intended for sale. Unless you are a long-time fan, chances are that you'll hear songs that you never associated with Barry Manilow. I've heard similar comments countless times at concerts. So, sit back and enjoy the show. You'll probably find yourself singing along or humming to familiar tunes.
Cover photo is courtesy of Stiletto Television. Other photos are sole property of the author.