Barry Manilow's New Dr Pepper Ad Made Him Nostalgic for His Jingle-Writing Days: 'It Paid the Rent'

The superstar opens up to PEOPLE about Dr. Pepper's new Dark Berry flavor campaign, bringing his musical Harmony to New York for the first time, and when Fanilows can expect a tour and new music

Barry Manilow's New Dr. Pepper Ad Made Him Nostalgic for His Jingle-Writing Days: 'It Paid the Rent'
Barry Manilow. Photo: Dr. Pepper

Barry Manilow didn't realize what he was getting into when Dr. Pepper approached him to be the face of the campaign for the soft drink's limited edition Dark Berry flavor.

"I thought it was going to be the commercial that I did years ago," the 78-year-old "Copacabana" icon tells PEOPLE, referencing a 1974 advertisement that saw Manilow perform the first-ever Dr. Pepper jingle — "The most original soft drink ever in the whole wide world" — written by Randy Newman. Instead, the beverage brand asked him to star in a commercial for Dark Berry, in which he jokingly claims only people named "Barry" are permitted to drink the fan-favorite black currant, blackberry, and black cherry flavored soda — which is back in stores for a limited time this Spring.

"They sent me this very flattering presentation about why they wanted Barry Manilow to do this," he says of the campaign. "I would've said yes even if it was terrible — but it wasn't terrible. It was very witty and fun."

It makes sense for Manilow to assume Dr. Pepper would want to reuse the jingle he originated for the brand, as the prolific singer-songwriter wrote and/or performed several memorable commercial jingles prior to his pop music career. Many of them are still in circulation today, including tunes he wrote for State Farm ("Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.") and Band-Aid ("I am stuck on Band-Aid brand, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me.")

"I lucked into doing commercials back when I was a starving musician," says Manilow, who knows how popular his jingles remain to this day. "They have been airing 'State Farm is there' for over 40 years. It's my greatest hit!"

Collaborating with Dr. Pepper again 50 years after performing the brand's first jingle evoked feelings of nostalgia for Manilow and served as a reminder of just how long he's been successfully working in the entertainment industry.

"When I walked onto the set and I saw the Dr. Pepper logo behind me, it took me right back to the '70s… I didn't expect it to hit me that hard," he says. "It brought me right back to those years when I was a struggling songwriter and I lucked into writing commercials. It paid the rent for many years."

With a catalog of hit songs under his belt and the support of his many "Fanilows," luckily he no longer has to worry about paying rent. These days, Manilow's much more focused on Harmony, the musical he wrote over 25 years ago with longtime collaborator Bruce Sussman that's finally made its way to New York City's National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, where it's running through May 15.

Harmony tells the true story of a singing group called the Comedian Harmonists, who formed in 1920s Germany and earned international fame through live performances and several released albums and films. But a few of its members were Jewish, and as their popularity increased, so did the presence of Nazis, who opposed the group and its values.

"They forbid them to sing. They forbid anybody to sell their albums. They destroyed everything that they had done," details Manilow. "They were totally obliterated from our world. Bruce and I watched the documentary on them and said, 'Who are these people, and why don't we know them?'"

Over the years since the musical was written, Manilow and Sussman have held productions of Harmony in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, but never on stage in the coveted theater capital of New York City — until now. Minutes before leaving his home to attend the show's opening night, however, Manilow tested positive for COVID-19 and had to miss out.

"It was like a cruel joke that after all these years I couldn't go to my own opening night, but I'm feeling great now," he says. "Everything got better the morning after because we got beautiful reviews."

Barry Manilow's New Dr. Pepper Ad Made Him Nostalgic for His Jingle-Writing Days: 'It Paid the Rent'
Barry Manilow. Dr. Pepper

Manilow's currently making plans to see Harmony before it closes, but even without seeing the musical in the flesh, he's feeling the love — it's received eight Outer Critics Circle Nominations and "with a little luck" will hopefully move to an on-Broadway theater following its current run. "I'm knocking on everything I can find now," he quips after sharing the info.

After nearly three decades in the making, the positive response and accolades received by Harmony so far have been validating. "All I can tell you is when you believe in something, don't give up," says Manilow. "We believed in it for all these years. Now that we've landed in New York in this beautiful theater, it just goes to show that if you stick with it, maybe it'll work for you. We couldn't be more grateful."

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On the horizon, Manilow's working on an official cast recording of the musical's songs to be released soon, as well as a brand-new album of original songs created amid pandemic lockdown. "I'm hoping that there's an audience out there for songs like I make. What you listen to on the radio... There's a lot of great rhythm, but there's no melodies on the radio," he details. "My albums, of course, are filled with melody, and so is this new album. There's still melodies. Maybe there's an audience out there for that."

Fanilows can also look forward to catching the superstar perform live throughout the UK in June as well as on a soon-to-be-announced six-date North American arena tour, set to occur later this summer. He's generally not a fan of the exhausting life on the road, but after a couple of years away from traveling due to the pandemic, he's ready to reconnect with his audience.

"I am looking forward to maybe not the road, but to be playing for big groups of people. I don't know why, but my music seems to be holding up," Manilow says humbly. "There are big audiences that really love hearing 'Can't Smile Without You' and 'Copacabana' and 'Mandy' and 'I Write the Songs,'" so I'm a very grateful guy that they're still out there."

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