Next week I’m going to see Barry Manilow in concert, so today I’m reposting this piece about the first time I saw him in 2010.
Seven years ago, I fulfilled a life-long dream and ventured to the Paris Casino in Las Vegas for my very first Barry Manilow concert. With me was my friend Karen who I’ve known since high school, and who quickly reminded me why she always used to get me in trouble with my parents. Also with us that weekend was my younger sister Amy, who chose to forgo the Manilow magic and instead went to see her pretend husband Bon Jovi perform.
Here’s the story of what happened at the Manilow concert the evening of March 6th, 2010. Trust me when I say it was a long night, it was an expensive night, and at times, it was a blurry and oddly humiliating night. But even so, it was one I’ll never forget.
5:00 p.m. Dressed in skirts and uncomfortable shoes, Karen and I primp for a fancy French dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant in the Paris casino before our Manilow concert. Across the hall, my sister Amy and her friends put on jeans and t-shirts and prepare for their dinner of chicken wings and 60 oz. buckets of beer at Dick’s Last Resort before their Bon Jovi concert. We stop by their room to say good-bye and I smugly think how much more sophisticated our evening will be than theirs. I don’t yet know how wrong I am.
5:30 p.m. Sipping champagne pêche at our cozy table for two overlooking the Bellagio fountains, Karen and I chat with our good-looking waiter Armando. He rests his hands on the back of our red velvet chairs and very smoothly says, “If there’s anything I can do for you ladies tonight, you just let me know.” This is the fifth or sixth time someone in Vegas has said that to us since we arrived, so Karen and I are beginning to wonder what “anything” actually means. Hookers? Blow? A hot tub party with Reba McIntyre impersonators? My God, we can only imagine.
6:00 p.m. Our salad course finished, we relax, take in the view, and guzzle the wine Armando has recommended. (Later we find out the wine was $25 a glass, prompting me gasp, “Twenty-five dollars a glass? I could buy seven bottles for that!”) Armando then brings Karen the house specialty, foie gras, which leads to the following conversation:
Karen: Try it!
Karen: Try it!
Karen: Try it!
Karen: Fine. But tu es une wussy, mon ami.
6:30 p.m. Our bellies full and our credit cards smoking, we take a thrilling 60-second ride in the Eiffel Tower elevator to the main floor of the Paris casino and walk over to the Manilow Showroom. At least 100 concert-goers have already lined up for the 7:30 p.m. show, all anxiously clutching onto their big, red tickets. For some reason, I think our passes give us entré into a private, champagne reception, so I ask the concierge where we should go. He’s not sure if our tickets actually do include the reception, which prompts Karen to then scream loud enough to drown out 1,500 slot machines: “PRESENT YOUR FANILOW CREDENTIALS, WENDI AARONS! PRESENT THEM! TELL THEM YOU’RE AN OFFICIAL FANILOW, WENDI AARONS! TELL THEM! TELL THEM YOU’RE A FAAAAA-NNNNNILOWW!”
As a look of distaste crosses the concierge’s face, I hiss “Shut up!” and yank her away. Because while I definitely do have my Barry Manilow International Fan Club (BMIFC) membership card in my bag, I’ve decided it’s for emergencies only. I do not take my Fanilow status lightly.
6:45 p.m. While I patiently wait in line to talk to someone at Will Call, Karen heads over to the Manilow Showroom bar to buy us two glasses of Manilow Merlot. “Tastes like soft rock from the 70’s,” I decide after I take a sip. Karen quickly downs hers, then busies herself by surreptitiously watching an obnoxious woman who looks like she’s smuggling live animals in the rear of her sparkly purple stretch pants. The woman then starts hacking up a lung while unfortunately standing next to a sign that says, “Everything’s Sexier in Paris Las Vegas!” Karen turns to me, snorts, “Well, obviously not EVERYTHING!” and a little spray of Barry’s vino shoots out her nose.
I predict we will soon be beat up.
7:00 p.m. Finally at the front of the line, I sweetly ask the ticket agent about the champagne reception. She is also not sure what to do, which makes Karen once again yell, “PRESENT YOUR FANILOW CREDENTIALS, WENDI AARONS! PRESENT THEM! TELL THEM YOU’RE AN OFFICIAL FANILOW, WENDI AARONS! TELL THEM! YOU’RE A FAAAA-NNNN-ILOWWW!” I quickly shove $20 into Karen’s hand and tell her to go buy us some Manilow Pinot Grigio and a soft pretzel, but now I’m really starting to worry. I reach into my bag and caress my BMIFC membership card and wonder if this is actually a Manilow Emergency.
7:20 p.m. We’re now anxiously standing next to the special reception elevator waiting to hear if we can get on and ride up to the champagne party and a better life. I try to charm the senior citizen ushers by telling them that I’ve always dreamed of opening a pasta restaurant with Barry called, “Looks Like Tomatoes!” but they don’t seem to get my joke. I feel the white-hot shame of being the uncoolest person at a Manilow concert.
7:25 p.m. Bad news. Even though I’ve very reluctantly “presented my Fanilow credentials” to a security guard, we’re told we actually don’t get to go to the reception. Instead, we must sadly enter the red-walled theater and find our seats with the rest of the Manilow scrubs. Karen tries to cheer me up by pointing out at least four older women who look like “Her Name Was Lola,” including one frisky septuagenarian who appears to have “yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there.” It helps a little.
7:45 p.m. The theater’s completely packed with women over 40 (and a few frowning husbands), all very anxiously waiting for Barry to appear. The blotto Wisconsinite behind us keeps whacking my seat and shouting, “Win’s Maniloo gonna get steerted already? Geez Lou-Weez! STEERT, damn you! STEERT!” Then the lights dim, the curtains part, and suddenly all hell breaks loose. “MANILOW!!” Karen screams. “IT’S MANILOW! IT’S MANILOW! That’s him, right? In the shoulder pads? The one on stage? Should I stop yelling until I know for sure? I’m just going on instinct here.”
“Yes, it’s HIM!” I scream back. My heart is suddenly beating way too fast. I quickly look around and note that I’m not the only one losing my shit as most of the audience appears to be having some kind of “Barry Is The Messiah” religious experience. The Wisconsinite behind me is actually weeping giant tears of joy into her $14 mixed drink. “IT’S BARRY! IT’S BAAAARRYYYY!” I scream. “OH, MY GOD! HE’S HERE!”
8:00-9:30 p.m. Proudly standing in front of 3-foot high glowing lights that spell his last name, Barry takes the stage and bursts into “Could It Be Magic.” He sounds amazing, and the frantic crowd is happily jumping up and down and cheering. (I rather enviously note that front row and center are about 50 people who must be high up in the Barry Manilow International Fan Club. The Illuminati of soft rock.) Karen and I dance around with absolutely no rhythm and we look like complete idiots, but I don’t care. We’re having a blast. A blast. Barry then pauses to graciously address the screaming masses, makes a rather ill-advised joke about using a douche (?) and then he continues with his string of hits. I loudly and off-keyedly sing along to “Weekend in New England,” “Even Now,” and “Bandstand Boogie.” I haven’t heard these songs in 20 years, but I still know every single word like it’s my name. Every single word.
As the show continues, Barry sings with his large band. Barry plays the grand piano. Barry croons “Love Me Tender.” Suddenly, I’m not so upset about missing the special elevator ride after all. Because Barry is fantastic. (Which I happily tell my Bon Jovi watching sister Amy in a text that she shows me the next morning: “bArRRy es SO GOOOOO!! bONjobi suxx!!”)
Finally, after we’ve all completely exhausted ourselves, it’s time for Barry’s big finish. Rising from beneath the stage like a Phoenix from the ashes—if the Phoenix were a 59-year-old spray tanned guy from Brooklyn wearing a top hat and tails—he launches into a fabulous rendition of “Copacabana.” The middle-aged women next to us heave their reclined bodies out of their plush seats and start shaking their Chico’s-clad tailfeathers like they’re trying to put out a grass fire. The Lolas in the front row squeal and start to fist pump which I doesn’t really make sense to “Copacabana” but whatever. The wasted Wisconsinite behind me wipes her upper lip with her purse and appears to be having a major hot flash. And Karen and I do a really, really bad white girl samba while weepily embracing each other and grinning like smitten fools. Yes, we may be tired, a little (a lot) drunk on Manilow Merlot and stuffed full of Vegas-style French food, but still—we’re having a moment. “This is the one I’ve been waiting for all night long!” she shouts. “I think I’m officially a Fanilow now!”
“You ARE, Karen! YOU ARE!” I shout back. “We’re both Fanilows now! EVERYONE IS A FANILOW! WOOOOO!”
A mere two minutes later, Barry takes his bow, the lights come on, and we have the heartbreaking realization that the show is finally over. The magic show has ended. Blinking in the sudden brightness, we straggle out of the theater, our feet sore, our spirits light, and our chins covered in all of the wine that we didn’t quite manage to get into our mouths. Alas, the evening’s Manilow adventure has ended for us.
But the Vegas humiliation is just beginning.