The Hollywood Reporter
Barry Manilow on Early Career: ‘I Made a Fool of Myself Trying to Copy’ Bette Midler
March 12, 2014
The pop singer talked with THR about working with Bette Midler and Clive Davis before finding his voice, and his new musical “Harmony” running March 12 through April 13 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre.
Ever since he was a teenager, silver-throated seventies pop singerÂ Barry ManilowÂ wanted to write for Broadway. He got close withÂ The Drunkard, a musical composed when he was only 19 that ran off-Broadway at the West 13thÂ Street Theatre for eight years. He hoped to move the show uptown but a funny thing happened on the way to Broadway, a career as a pop singer with gold and platinum albums, two Emmys, a Tony and a Grammy.
Here, Manilow talks toÂ THRÂ about his early career, working withBette MidlerÂ andÂ Clive DavisÂ before finding his voice as an entertainer.
So you had always meant to write for Broadway but then this pesky pop career got in the way.
This pop career miraculously took off and took me into a world that I never even imagined. If I hadnâ€™t hadÂ Clive DavisÂ guiding me along I really donâ€™t know what kind of pop career I would have had. I had to learn on the job about writing for pop records and performing on a stage. Little by little I figured it out. It was kind of fun and thrilling and I got good at it. But Broadway took a back seat to this explosion. Thatâ€™s whyHarmonyÂ is so important to us.
“Copacabana” isÂ more of a Broadway song than a pop song, really.
Every time Bruce and I would try to write something more interesting than, â€œI love you and I miss you,â€ Clive would say, â€œNo, that belongs on the Broadway stage, it belongs on a TV special or something.â€ As you can tell “Copacabana“Â is not really a pop song. We kind of snuck it out in the middle ofÂ “Canâ€™t Smile Without You.”
And the fans loved it.
Even though I was a pop artist, I took my love of Broadway storytelling and my love of cabaret into my pop world. These audiences that were coming to see a pop artist were surprised when I did that kind of thing and I think they were surprised in a good way.
You must have learned a lot working with Bette Midler when it came to putting on a show.
I never had eyes to be a performer. And when I got the opportunity to stand up on the stage, the only thing I knew was what Bette did. I made a fool of myself trying to copy her and it was all wrong until I figured out my personality on the stage and then it settled in. I learned form Bette how to perform, how to do a show. I had no idea. I never even paid attention to performance.
You were focusing on composition?
I was trying to be an arranger. My hero at the time wasÂ Nelson Riddle,Â John Costa. EvenÂ the Beatles, as brilliant as they were as songwriters, as brilliant as they were as performers, I was listening toÂ George MartinÂ behind the Beatles. What the heck was he doing behindÂ “Eleanor Rigby“? Thatâ€™s where I was at.
Does the music inÂ HarmonyÂ reflect your pop career in anyway?
If you didnâ€™t know that Barry Manilow did the score, I donâ€™t know if after the show you would think that this is a Barry Manilow score. Itâ€™s pretty far away from the kind of music Iâ€™m known for. There are no backbeats. There are no drum loops. There are no big endings and what I love to do on records. This is a Broadway musical and itâ€™s true to the story and the style of their work.