It wasn’t only an Atlanta theater-loving crowd at Wednesday night’s opening of “Next to Normal” at the Alliance Theatre – Barry Manilow dropped by to check out the show as well.
The iconic singer-songwriter-musician was spotted an hour before the show seated on a high-backed stool inside Table 1280, the chic restaurant adjoining the Alliance, addressing a group of well-heeled folks that included theater board members and top donors.
Manilow, looking healthy and tanned in a dark suit, later headed into the theater and took a seat in the center orchestra section, about 10 rows from the stage. His longtime collaborator, Bruce Sussman, was also in attendance, according to Alliance Artistic Director Susan Booth, who mentioned the pair’s attendance during her pre-show remarks.
Manilow half-rose from his seat and briefly addressed the audience with some waves and smiles before getting back to the business of why he was there – to see the show.
Kathleen Covington, public relations manager at the Alliance, said Manilow, an avowed theater fan, had heard about some of the Alliance’s world premieres and had been talking about coming for a visit. Opening night of the powerful “Next to Normal,” a poignant, sometimes darkly comical exploration of mental illness, happened to fit his schedule.
On a purely speculative note, Manilow has long been trying to get his musical “Harmony,” written with Sussman, on Broadway and told me in a summer interview that there was “some big news coming” about the show that he couldn’t yet disclose. Perhaps he’s exploring a new alliance? Or maybe he just wanted to see the tremendously moving “Normal.”
But the master performer will be on Broadway in January in a different form – as himself. Manilow earlier this week announced a 17-show stand at the St. James Theatre starting Jan. 18. “Manilow on Broadway” marks his first appearance on a Broadway stage since 1989.
“Next to Normal” runs through Nov. 11.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene