A Day with Barry Manilow

It’s a Miracle, a True-Blue Spectacle…

—Phyllis Doran

It was a regular Monday rehearsal for Houston Choral Showcase, but instead of our music director Diane Benson telling us to pull out a piece of music from our spring lineup to sing, she said, “I have something to share that is very exciting.” She then proceeded to tell us that because of our great online presence, numerous YouTube videos and descriptive website, the organizers of Barry Manilow’s tour had invited us to sing with them.

The 46 folks in the room, who on occasion have been known to sing in unison, collectively and without missing a beat said, “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!”

And so began the four-week frenzy culminating in a night to remember for the 32 lucky members of the chorus who would be selected to sing back-up for a living legend. To help her make this difficult choice, savvy Diane used one of the most challenging passages of our spring show music as a test for who could prepare quickly for the Manilow gig. For two weeks you could find singers in odd corners mumbling the skat section of “Speak Softly, Love” from “The Godfather” – all those bah-doo-ways and doo-bee-ahs are like learning a foreign language. Once the singers were chosen we had two weeks to prepare for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing with Barry Manilow.

Friends, families, acquaintances, and random people we met on the street all had similar reactions when we boasted of our selection: Wow…that’s great! How did you get that gig? The real Barry Manilow? Actually on stage? It was surreal. Nonetheless it was happening, and we had a lot of work to do.

Even though we were familiar with the songs – It’s a Miracle, Copacabana, and I Write the Songs – it was the arrangement as back-up singers that we needed to learn, and of course, having scoured the internet for videos of Barry’s “One Last Time!” performances from other cities, we knew we would also be in for some fancy footwork. We were each dedicated to “eat, sleep and breathe” these tunes so that we were as prepared as we possibly could be on February 17th, when Barry would be in Houston.

2016-02-17 22.10.24The day arrived and even coordinating the chorus to get to the venue as a collective unit was an undertaking in itself. Ten pre-determined cars formed a caravan from our home base and rehearsal location at Zion Lutheran Church to the Toyota Center, where we were greeted and escorted backstage by our newest best friend, Doug, who has the best job in the world.

The next two hours were spent reviewing the music and giving us an overview of what we would be asked to do with our arms, shoulders and feet. But it wasn’t until we made our way onto the actual stage and met with Barry’s long-time back-up singer and choreographer, Kye, that we would get our line-up and much more specific directions on where we would be and which way we enter, sway, swing, point, reach for the sky, clap and exit. Kye was also super funny, inspirational and helped to calm our collective nerves. When we were through with this mini stage rehearsal, he gave us a very heart-felt talk about how we should take it all in, sing our hearts out, and know that out of the millions of people in this great city of ours, that we were truly blessed to be a part of this event that would stay in our memories for a long, long time.

Empty Toyota Center

Kye and Doug backstage

After some down-time and photo opportunities with Barry’s “image” on the concourse of the Toyota Center, it was time for another round of rehearsing, to really get the details of the moves down pat and get fitted with our ruby red choir robes. Doug was a great mentor and directed us with the poise of someone who has done this many times and with much more challenged dancers. None of us was willing to take the chance of being seen on the Jumbotron mouthing the wrong words or going in the wrong direction with our “windshield wiper” shoulder rocks.

Barry Manilow singers

choir robes

And in no time at all, it was SHOW TIME!

We were led backstage, where we had the only opportunity to actually hear or see any of the concert. As we waited, the reality and excitement of this moment was almost overwhelming. We anxiously listened for our cue to navigate our way up the dark steps and onto the risers and hoped that no one would trip and cause what would surely have been a domino effect of singers dropping into the orchestra pit, as the space we had was so tight!

And there we were, lights bright, singing our hearts out, moving together as a single red ship on the sea of rhythm and rock and roll. Looking out at a true legend and performer who has for decades brought us music that will forever be in our collective consciousness and gazing even further into an arena filled to the brim with Fanilows and, of course, our very own families and friends, who said we missed a really great concert. Given this was the “One Last Time!” tour, I suppose we will just have to wait for the release of the concert DVD to see it. Perhaps they will even use the best darn choral group in Texas for that production.

Barry Manilow backup choir