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"I guess I'm the last Jew in the building," sighed Barry Manilow, pulling out a stool so he could get the leverage he'd need to wring out one more maudlin ballad at the tail end of the final concert at Sunrise Musical Theatre on Saturday, April 13. Open for business since 1976 (a Bobby Vinton show was the first), Sunrise was the finest -- and only -- medium-sized venue in our little world. The 3900 seats were just plenty for bands in their prime to fill: backstage at the Culture Room a few months ago, Tom Tom Club drummer Chris Frantz had nothing but sweetly fond memories of the Talking Heads' last concert there back in 1982. But it was not until the very end of Manilow's three-night stand that the nearly full house began to look around and realize they'd probably never step into the Sunrise again. The amphitheater is in the Lord's hands now: The Faith Center Ministries will begin moving into the concrete complex this week.
Thanks to a last-minute snafu, yours truly almost missed this tear-stained, era-ending show. Upon arriving at Sunrise for the last time and finding a far-away parking spot next to a pink minivan with a "Tupperware by Julie" sign on the side, a total of zero Manilow tix awaited the notebook- and camera-toting Bandwidth. But while pacing around the will-call window (as the extremely nice ladies behind the thick glass offered nothing but smiles and freshly baked sweets... surely there must be a way to thank them. That's not bulletproof glass, is it?), it was possible to improve spirits the old-fashioned way by laughing at those even less fortunate, such as a man who'd arrived at Sunrise perplexed as to why Manilow was on the marquee instead of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (who were performing the same night at the National Car Rental Center) or a teary neurotic who nearly hyperventilated when the women initially couldn't locate his tickets. "Oh God," he moaned, "I'm going to get sick. This is going to ruin my son's 30th birthday present!"
Meanwhile, screams (an overly excited, white, middle-aged, Wal-Mart-shopping frenzy) began to fill the center of Sunrise like the approaching wail of 17-year locusts. With the concert underway and no tickets forthcoming, bailing on Barry started to look like the best way of saving face. Dig it: "Looks Like We Made It," is not what you want to hear leaking from a Barry Manilow concert while you're locked outside.
Finally, the tickets arrived, but so much had already been lost. As such, exactly what transpired during those 25 minutes in limbo will forever remain a mystery, and I will have to live with that lack of knowledge for the rest of my natural life. But after being escorted all the way down to the front row, stage left next to ecstatic fans, the sleepy calm outside didn't seem so bad after all. Sitting closer to Barry Manilow than anyone has a right to, closer than I ever dreamed necessary, was sensory overload of the worst kind. When he came close (maybe six feet away), the woman in the adjacent seat started in with a grand mal of electro-socket spasms and tremors, characterized by ohmigodhescomingoverhere delivered through clenched teeth. And not without good cause: the 55-year-old singer (born Barry Alan Pincus) doesn't look like he's even 40.
There was a tiny trickle of sweat visible near his hairline (which, incidentally, has never receded, not even a micro-millimeter), but beyond that, an air of invincibility and superheroism surrounded him. Nothing could have prepared Bandwidth for the specter of such an immaculately well-preserved Manilow. The closest metaphor is probably one of those antique cars always kept under a canvas tarp in someone's garage, to be unveiled and polished to the oohs and aahs of everyone in the neighborhood. Unbelievably, the iconic perfection one's mind's eye holds of Manilow is equaled and bettered by an up-close look: He has transmogrified himself into the idealized image held by his fans, a pretty nice parlor trick when you think about it. He appeared as a televised entity, whether up-close and personal or with his massive mug projected on a pair of video screens.
All the hits paraded, each and every one, including the new songs from his NYC "concept" album, Stories from the Mayflower, which substitutes night-lite, white-guy soul-pop-'n'-jazz for the frothy schmaltz malteds he used to serve up. Though he overdid everything else ("Mandy" was spun into an overly ornamental, ready-for-Caesar's Palace production), he held back from overdoing his Sunrise sendoff. "The congregation's gonna sound great in here," he marveled to himself at one point after listening to his backup singers fade away. "What a great place. Just small enough to be intimate."
"Copacabana," one of a tiny handful of songs mentioning the Cuban capital that's still safe to sing around here, was given a hurried mid-set treatment. Immediately following a goopy "I Write the Songs" came the very last song performed at Sunrise: "Forever and a Day," which may well indicate how long South Florida audiences will have to wait until a replacement for the hall is found. Barry didn't say that, of course. So he said the only thing he could say, really, given the circumstances:
"You'll find someplace else."