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MANILOW TO DELIVER THE GOODS

Barry Manilow - the man so many wanted to write off years ago - is still going strong in the third stage of his career.

Indeed, he may be going stronger than ever, as Utahns will discover when he brings his "Greatest Hits and Then Some . . . " tour to the Delta Center on Wednesday.The first stage of Manilow's career - or, more accurately, the first stage of his stardom - came back in the '70s when hits like "Mandy," "It's a Miracle," "Could It Be Magic," "I Write the Songs," "Trying to Get the Feeling," "This One's for You" shot him to the top of the pop charts.

There were screaming girls, big concerts and a string of 25 consecutive top 40 hits that extended into the '80s. Not bad for a guy from Brooklyn whose first brush with fame came when he was playing the piano and doing arrangements for Bette Midler.

But by the mid-'80s, the perception went from Barry Manilow the Star to Barry Manilow the Dweeb. He was perceived as a purveyor of schmaltzy, syrupy ballads who was just too unhip for belief.

No self-respecting music fan would even admit publicly to liking Manilow's music anymore.

Not that any of this stopped Manilow from doing just exactly what he'd always done - making music. He turned out at least one album - and sometimes two - every year from 1973 to 1992 (although some of those were of the greatest-hits variety). And, despite critical disdain, Manilow fans kept buying them.

And a funny thing happened on the way to being a fuddy-duddy. Manilow suddenly achieved respect once again.

This is the man that Rolling Stone, no less, has declared "the showman of our generation."

And, given the chance, he will make believers even out of his detractors. He did with yours truly.

As a teenager during the 1970s, I liked Barry Manilow. Certainly, every girl I knew liked him.

And I can even remember being extremely annoyed one day in the high school cafeteria upon overhearing some ditz say, "Oh, he's soooooo conceited" as "I Write the Songs" played in the background.

But by the time I reached my late teens - that time of college and trying to be a grownup - Manilow just wasn't cool anymore. Death, or at least great pain, would have been preferable to going in to a music store and actually buying one of his albums.

So it remained for years. But then I got roped into seeing him in concert in Binghamton, N.Y., of all places, during a family vacation last summer.

(My wife is still a big Manilow fan, and you know how that goes . . . )

And, much to my surprise, it turns out that Manilow really is a great showman. In addition to his obvious vocal talents, he's witty, he's bright, he's self-deprecating - and he sure knows how to entertain.

The "Greatest Hits and Then Some . . . " show is just that. It's full of his most recognizable hits, including the above-mentioned songs and many others. There's also music from his "Singin' with the Big Bands" album and a tune he wrote for the animated movie "Thumbelina."

And it's all backed by a great band and backup singers, fabulous costumes and sets (the one inspired by "Copacabana" is particularly fun) and great production values.

In his own way, Manilow lives up to the praise given him by Rolling Stone.

And, apparently, he still has a good many fans here in Utah. His concert had to be switched from Abravanel Hall to the Delta Center because of greater-than-expected demand for tickets.

The Manilow concert is Wednesday at 8 p.m. Tickets range in price from $20 to $32.50 and are available at the Delta Center box office and all Smith'sTix outlets. Or tickets can be charged by phone by calling 467-TIXX or 1-800-888-TIXX.