Personable Manilow offers warm Baton Rouge show

The nearly 90-minute show that enduring pop star Barry Manilow performed Monday night at the Baton Rouge River Center Arena mixed folksy warmth with smooth, old-school showbiz.

Backed by three singer-dancers and a 9-piece band, Manilow sang and played his many hits, talked about his life and career and made a few self-effacing jokes. He even danced a bit.

At 70, Manilow’s voice isn’t quite what it used to be. He didn’t let that stop him from singing very respectable renditions of such ultra-romantic ballads as “Mandy,” “I Write the Songs” and “Could It Be Magic.”

Manilow and company also breezed through a bopping “Bandstand Boogie” and put on their dancing shoes for the sad tale of a faded showgirl he tells amidst the ironically happy disco-Latin beat of “Copacabana (At the Copa).”

In another example of Manilow’s show-business professionalism, he changed jackets throughout the concert and draped the stage in a royally red curtain. He made his entrance in a glittering red jacket, singing his disco-era hit about love finally coming his way, “It’s a Miracle.”

A big but less than sold-out audience was on hand for the concert, which had been rescheduled to Monday because of last week’s ice storm.

“Finally,” Manilow said following the medley of “It’s a Miracle” and “Could It Be Magic” that opened the show. “You came to the right place. I’m here to warm you up.”

That said, the sentiment in the evening’s third song, the bittersweet “Looks Like We Made It,” both fit the delayed occasion and pulled heartstrings.

Manilow is a fine pianist, but he spent most of the performance on his feet, courting the delighted, majority female crowd. Good choice. It’s easier to communicate with audiences when you’re standing in front of them, rather than sitting behind a piano.

In another blast from the ’70s and ’80s past, fans throughout the arena gently waved lime-green glow sticks as Manilow crooned his romantic lyrics. More nostalgia played out on the video screen behind the stage as clips of the singer’s first national television appearance showed Clive Davis, a music mogul with the golden touch, introducing Manilow during a 1974 episode of “The Midnight Special.”

Manilow and his troupe didn’t fill the entire show with hits. They sidestepped into a Manilow-ized version of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” as well as a new love song from “Harmony,” a musical he’s composed that he hopes is Broadway bound.

Returning to his classics, Manilow sat at the piano for “I Write the Songs” before rising again to lead the crowd in a sing-along of that signature hit.

Although Manilow wrote many of his own hits, “I Write the Songs” isn’t one of them. That credit goes to Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys. Even so, Manilow made “I Write the Songs” his own, so much so that it was the obvious choice for him to wave goodbye to.

Manilow’s one-night stand in Baton Rouge proved another hit for the skinny kid from Brooklyn who became a star.