Barry Manilow and his new hips will test their stage worthiness when they arrive Thursday to perform in Wichita.
Manilow, the 68-year-old singer worshiped by legions of “Fanilows” for his charm, his multiple Grammy and Tony awards, and his enduring hits such as “Mandy” and “Copacabana,” is just now feeling like himself after major hip surgery in December.
Calling from his Palm Springs home a couple of weeks ago, Manilow talked about his health and his readiness to hit the road after seven years of residency in Las Vegas, most recently at the Paris Hotel, and five months of excruciating rehab at home.
“Boy, that was a wild trip,” Manilow said of his surgery. “I learned a lot about health. You know, I always took my health for granted. We all do. But when it goes away, it’s really something. I really found the gratitude in being healthy.”
Manilow, a singer, songwriter and producer whose career has included 47 top-40 hits, underwent the surgery, which repaired torn abductor muscles and removed fluid-filled sacs in his hips, the day after he ended his Las Vegas stay.
He was scheduled for dates across the United States and Europe, but the long recovery forced him to reschedule many of them.
“There was no choice,” he said. “I had no choice. My hips were in charge and they were not cooperating.”
The recovery period was awful, Manilow said, describing months when he couldn’t get out of bed followed by weeks of using walkers or wheelchairs to get around.
But nearly six months later, he said, he’s almost healed. He’s done a few shows already and is able to run around on stage and has the endurance to make it through a two-hour set.
The show Manilow is bringing to Wichita, which is the first stop on a string of scheduled and rescheduled U.S. dates, is smaller than the one he performs on his best selling DVD, “Live in London,” which was released in April and includes footage of Manilow singing with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.
But Thursday’s show will be just as fun, he promises.
Manilow says he likes to sprinkle in some of his newer songs, including selections from his 2011 album “15 Minutes,” which debuted on the Billboard Top 200 chart at No. 2 last June. But he’s smart enough to know what’s expected of him, too.
“At this point, I think I know what the audience wants to hear,” Manilow said. “They want to hear the familiar things, and they’re kind enough to allow me to do an album cut or a brand new song.”
The hit he gets the biggest reaction to, Manilow said, is “Copacabana.” But he also would never try to get away without performing “Can’t Smile Without You,” “I Write the Songs” and “Mandy.”
Does he ever get tired of singing the songs that make the whole world sing?
“Never, never, never,” he said. “I’m a grateful guy that they’re still out there wanting to hear these songs, and I’ll do them until they stop coming.”
Manilow also is passionate about his charity, the Manilow Music Project, which he started in 2008, inspired by the effect school music programs had on his own career. The charity is designed to get musical instruments into the hands of school children who don’t have them because of budget cuts or other issues.
Not only is he offering Wichitans free tickets to his Thursday show in exchange for donating instruments, but last year, Manilow and his charity made a big contribution to the schools in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo.
Manilow personally visited Joplin in October and delivered three truckloads — $300,000 worth — of new instruments.
“That was a very moving morning,” he said. “We were all just shocked. I have a couple of friends there who gave us a tour of the city, and you can see all the pictures you want, but when you’re standing in the middle of it… where there were homes and offices and stores, it was flat. Whatever this thing was that came through must have been so powerful.”