Dorian Woodruff: Studio Musician—The Music of Barry Manilow

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Dorian Woodruff
Photo: Helane Blumfield

Dorian Woodruff
Studio Musician: The Music of Barry Manilow
Saturday, February 26 at 7 pm
Pangea, NYC

Click HERE for tickets

The very successful Barry Manilow has been dismissed in certain quarters as cheesy and over-rated. He’s very lucky to have the talented Dorian Woodruff in his corner to offer up this salute which, with his direct and unfussy demeanor, highlighted the honest emotions within the songwriter’s lyrics and music. The evening was inevitably ballad heavy, but it was enlivened by the star’s clever patter and very funny reminiscences. Tales of working at The Matterhorn (no, not that Matterhorn) and of his first discovery of his hero at age 10, both charmed and moved the audience.

Woodruff wisely never attempts to imitate Manilow. He simply embodies the songs with a sweetness that keeps the emotions implicit in the songs trapped just below the surface, which makes them all the more effective. This is paired with impressive enunciation that lets every word have force without the audience having to strain forward. For instance, his “This One’s for You” and “Some Good Things Never Last” offer quite a punch by keeping the emotions in check. In two songs in which Manilow had applied his music to the lyrics of the late master, Johnny Mercer (“Can’t Teach My Old Heart New Tricks” and “When October Goes”), the singer’s approach is simply thrilling as the material reveals his powerful and expansive voice. The latter number also allowed music director Gregory Toroian to take an extended gorgeous piano solo.

The star’s command of enunciation was again demonstrated with a rapid-fire “Jump Shout Boogie.” This was followed by a bit of amusing folderol, “Commercial Medley,” which encompassed several of the television jingles that Manilow either wrote and/or performed in his leaner years. With Woodruff’s lyricism and total lack of condescension, there was beauty revealed in pitches for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Band-Aids, and State Farm, among others.

Guided by director Lina Koutrakos with her usual deft and invisible hand, Woodruff had one more impressive surprise: arguably Manilow’s biggest hit, “Copacabana,” normally presented as a high energy disco anthem but here delivered as a tragic tale told via a slow ballad; here the singer barely moved as he told the story. It takes great talent to trust and reveal the truth within a song the audience has heard many times; this is definitely the sign of a skilled cabaret artist. Check out Woodruff the next time he comes on stage.

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— Bart Greenberg, Cabaret Scenes