Meggie Siegrist, Brittany Carricato Cox, Sara King, Christie Debreau in Copacabana. Photo-Derby Dinner
Music by Barry Manilow
Lyrics by Bruce Sussman & Jack Feldman
Book by Barry Manilow, Jack Feldman & Bruce Sussman
Directed by Lee Buckholz
Choreography by Heather Paige Folsom
Review by Brian Walker
Entire contents copyright 2014 by Brian Walker, All rights reserved.
I have to admit to having no prior experience with this musical before seeing it at The Derby. Sure, I’ve heard of Barry Manilow, but know very little about his music or that he even had his own musical. I was going in expecting more of a revue of his more famous songs and what I got was a lovely surprise in the package of a musical full of snappy tunes and big numbers that were full of heart and the right mix of comedy, romance and even a bit of intrigue. In short, the musical is a ton of fun. I couldn’t get the songs out of my head the next day at work, which to me is a sign of a great show.
It opens with Stephen (Jordan Cyphert), a musician struggling to write a new musical. His wife is in the shower and they’re going to dinner to celebrate their fifth anniversary but he just can’t pull himself away from his studio to get ready, he’s close, he knows he is if he can just get a few more minutes.
Flash to the decadence of New York City, 1947, at one of the greatest clubs in the city, The Copacabana. We’re in the world of Stephen’s play and the transition from one reality to another was fun and interesting and quickly set up the idea that this is a fantasy world and all bets are off.
Our main characters are introduced, a gallery of all the typical archetypes from the flashy musicals of the 40’s. There’s, of course, a small town girl named Lola who’s moved to the big city to make her dreams come true. There’s a devastatingly handsome piano man named Tony who immediately takes an interest in her, this role is played by the same actor who plays the modern day writer. There’s the feisty, loud-mouthed owner of the club, Sam, who gives the new starlet a job, and his sidekick Gladys, who has worked at the club a while and takes Lola under her wing. There’s the villain from a rival club in Havana, Rico, who comes to the city to lure girls down to Cuba to be in his act. Writing about them now, they all seem a bit clichéd, but I think that was the point. It’s an experiment of character types and for me it works because they were brought to glorious life by the talented company of players and they all turn out to be full of surprises.
Rico ends up kidnapping Lola and forcing her into his show at his Cuban club leaving Tony with only one choice, to go to Cuba to save her. Act two finds Rico’s aging showgirl wife Conchita helping Lola and, of course, high-jinx ensues in the penultimate scene to a raucous and wonderful climax in a nice happy ending with a tidy bow. It won’t change your life but it did provide an excellent evening of fun, escapist theatre brought to life expertly by the entire ensemble.
Jordan Cyphert gives a standout performance Stephen/Tony. He plays both the man and the personification of the man’s fantasies stunningly seamlessly. His opening dance number as Tony to Dancing Foot was electric and engaging and succeeded in hooking me to him for the remainder of the show. He’s the whole package: singer, dancer, actor and it doesn’t hurt that he’s very easy on the eyes.
Cami Glauser and John Vessels as Gladys and Sam both did some fantastic character work and turned two peripheral characters into four dimensional human beings that were both funny and honest. Jillian Prefach was also exquisite as the aging Conchita, managing a performance with depth and variance never falling into caricature. Kayla Peabody has the voice of an angel and has fun camping it up as the small town ingénue Lola.
The costumes by Sharon Murray Harrah were also fabulous, capturing the time and place with color and pizzazz and a ton of style.
Food wasn’t impressive this time around with the exception of their awesome stewed tomatoes. As a vegetarian it was hard to pick around all the bacon that seemed to pervade everything on the buffet but those tomatoes just about made up for it.
So yeah, Barry Manilow, who knew? I wouldn’t say I’m now a die-hard fan or anything but I did enjoy his musical very much and am interested to check out more of his body of work. Copacabana is just a fun musical and this is a top-notch production.
February 18-March 30, 2014