As she celebrates a remarkable 50-year career in show business, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester is looking back on some of her stunning achievements while she pursues new adventures on the concert stage, in the recording studio, and as a mentor to up-and-coming artists.
Recently, Manchester attended the final preview of Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ at the Music Box Theatre in New York City ahead of the show’s official opening for its first-ever revival on Broadway. The groundbreaking, wall-to-wall dance revue was a smash when it premiered in 1978, and as it was in the original, the revival’s innovative musical program (everything from classical to contemporary songs) features Manchester’s standout recording “If It Feels Good, Let It Ride” (from the singer’s 1973 debut album, Home to Myself).
Says Manchester, “I’m delighted that my song ‘If It Feels Good, Let It Ride,’ co-written with Carole Bayer Sager, is back on Broadway in the reimagined Bob Fosse’s Dancin’. It’s always a thrill to have a song of mine lifted up into a new and dreamy arena, where spectacular dancers, staged beautifully by Wayne Cilento, find their energy from it and soar!”
Another of Manchester’s theater projects, Sweet Potato Queens, is slated to hit the stage in February of 2024. The high-powered Southern rock musical is based on the wildly successful Sweet Potato Queens books by New York Times bestselling author Jill Conner Browne, with music by Manchester, lyrics by Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame winner Sharon Vaughan and book by Tony Award winner Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood). SPQ tells the true story of “Boss Queen” Jill and her closest friends in Mississippi, and how they learn to grab their challenges by the sequins, feathers, and tiaras to live their lives out loud, on their own terms.
“It’s wonderful to know that a new production of Sweet Potato Queens will be presented at the Marcelle Theater in St. Louis,” Manchester enthuses. “Be prepared to laugh, play and put your best drag on!”
Manchester is coming off two recent concert appearances. As part of The Cooper Union’s Women’s History Month, on Saturday, March 18, she performed two songs solo at the piano during a program that also featured Lisa Fischer and Melissa Errico. Manchester was thrilled to take the stage that has hosted such luminaries as Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and legendary folksinger Odetta.
Next month, Manchester will take the stage for two very special concerts. On Wednesday, April 26, she will return to one of her favorite venues, The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (The Kate) in Old Saybrook, CT.
Two nights later, on Friday, April 28, Manchester will perform at The Vogel at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, NJ. At both of these shows, fans will be treated to a wide range of songs from Manchester’s career, and they can also expect generous previews from the singer’s upcoming album RE:VIEW, on which she reimagines some of her notable classics and deep cuts.
As fans know, Manchester’s friendship and association with the incomparable Barry Manilow dates back to the early ’70s, when the two worked as jingle singers. Manilow soon became Bette Midler’s musical director, and he invited the Divine Miss M to see Manchester perform, which led to Manchester becoming one of the original Harlettes. When Midler appeared at Carnegie Hall in 1974, Manchester sang on stage with her.
Through the years, Manchester and Manilow worked together on a number of projects. For her 2017 album, The Fellas, she invited him to Citrus College in Glendora, CA (where she’s an Artist in Residence) to record the record’s sole duet, “For Me and My Gal,” in tribute to Gene Kelly and Judy Garland.
On Monday, May 1, Manchester will be back on stage at Carnegie Hall for a very special star-studded event, “This One’s For You: The Music of Barry Manilow,” as the New York Pops celebrates its 40th anniversary by honoring the iconic Grammy, Tony, and Emmy winner.
“I am honored to have been asked by my very dear friend Barry Manilow to take part in an evening that will pay tribute to his enormous and enduring talent as a composer and a showman,” Manchester says. “I’ll be singing one of his most beautiful songs, ‘I Am Your Child.’ I played for the first time at the venerable Carnegie Hall in 1974 – it is magnificent, indeed.”
An accomplished instrumentalist, Manchester recently tackled a new challenge when she was commissioned by Grammy-winning pianist Jeffrey Biegel to compose a concerto for piano and orchestra. The five-movement piece, “AWAKE!,” will be performed by Biegel for its world premiere. “To compose such a large piece – much longer than a song – I had to dig deep and rise up to serve Jeffrey’s spectacular pianistic capabilities,” Manchester says. “It’s been an entirely engaging and emotionally exhilarating adventure.”
As she prepares for the release of RE:VIEW and continues to perform in concert, Manchester sets her sights on new career goals while she prepares to pass the torch to the next generation of artists. Her ongoing mentorship of music students at Citrus College has been a richly rewarding experience. And now, with the arrival of her first grandchild, Layla (the proud parents are her son Nathan and his wife, Sara), Manchester is excited to sing lullabies.
“There is a newly discovered chamber in my heart dedicated solely to the love I have for my granddaughter, Layla,” Manchester says. “Though only a few weeks old, my Teeny Queen has powerfully brought new life, new hope, and new light to our family. I will love her through all eternity.”