Barry Manilow at Amway Center – Orlando Sentinel

On Barry Manilow’s last visit to Orlando, in 2011, the pop veteran arrived with a 70-piece orchestra, enough firepower to turn the crescendos of “Could It Be Magic” and “Somewhere In the Night” into nuclear-sized explosions.

He took a more subtle approach on Saturday at Amway Center, proving that bigger isn’t always better, even when it comes to splashy pop songs.  This time, Manilow was accompanied by a 9-piece band and trio of backing vocalists flexible enough to allow expressive twists in old favorites.

Even with a stripped-down vibe, the guy still knows how to make an entrance.

(See concert photos here.)

Attired in a bright-red jacket over black shirt and slacks, Manilow stepped into a solitary spotlight in the middle of the band to launch into “It’s a Miracle,” the first in a string of hits that stretched throughout a briskly paced 90 minutes.

“Hey! What’s with the weather?” Manilow said in the opening moments. “It’s freezing out there, but you’ve come to the right place! I’m here to warm you up.”

Sonically, Manilow’s set was warmer with the band than it was in 2011, allowing the singer’s voice to assert itself above the lush ballads and bouncy anthems such as “Bandstand Boogie.”

At age 70, Manilow knows how to deliver a ballad. At the piano, he offered a faithful “Even Now” with conviction that was impressive for a pop star in the fifth decade of a career. Even the melodramatic “I Am Your Child,” a lesser piano ballad, was endearing.

The guy can tell a joke, too.

“I was the Justin Bieber of the ’70s,” Manilow told the crowd. “Really! Ask your mother.”

Thankfully, he offered (incrementally) less of the Vegas-worthy shtick on Saturday than on his last visit.

Instead, Manilow talked about his childhood, his early days in the business and the satisfaction he takes from the music now.  More important, he covered obligatory oldies – “This One’s For You,” “Mandy,” “Copacabana (At the Copa),” “I Write the Songs” —with skill, energy and style.

In the end, the songs turned the show into a guilty-pleasure nostalgia trip, even for the cynical. Whether powered by orchestra, lounge band or solitary piano, this material still has the power to make at least an arena sing, if not the whole world.

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