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Theater | Theater Review

Time to Move on to Mandy?

Spinoff of Manilow's hit song 'Copacabana' is dumb fun but lacks laughs.

February 22, 2001|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

One hundred and 36 minutes longer than the disco hit from whence it came, the musical billed as "Barry Manilow's Copacabana" is making its way around the country, spreading nostalgia on various subscription series like Cheez Whiz on a store-bought bagel. Through the weekend it plays the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Two things straight off. First, this full-length "Copacabana" lacks the original song's fabulous tragic dimension. ("She lost her youth and she lost her Tony/Now she's lost her MIND!/At the Copa, Copacabana. . . .") In this version, all ends happily for Lola, the Copa girl who blows into 1947 Manhattan from Tulsa, and for Tony, part-time bartender, part-time songwriter, full-time bundle of perky narcissism.

Second, this isn't the worst show out there these days. "Copacabana" may be low on laughs and utterly lacking in a central pair of lovers worth the fuss. But it's better than, say, "Footloose," as well as a few others circulating in these shaggy dog days of national touring product. Director David Warren ("Jekyll & Hyde") and choreographer Wayne Cilento ("Tommy," "Aida") lend the project some modestly budgeted class and zip.

For those working on their Manilow dissertations: First came the 1978 song, the ur-"Copa" from Manilow's "Even Now" album. Then came the TV movie starring Annette O'Toole and Joseph Bologna. Then, a 75-minute Atlantic City casino stage show. In 1994 a fuller stage treatment opened in England.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 27, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Theater review--The plot description involving the characters of Tony (Franc D'Ambrosio) and his romantic rival, Rico (Philip Hernandez), were transposed in a review of "Copacabana" in last Thursday's Calendar Weekend.

Now, this. The story of Lola (Darcie Roberts), Tony (Franc D'Ambrosio), the oily, connected Rico (Philip Hernandez) and Tony's jealous lover, Conchita (Terry Burrell), involves Tony drugging and dragging Lola down to his own club in Havana. There's a framing device, in which present-day songwriter Stephen (D'Ambrosio) struggles to complete the song we all know and love. This process is treated with the respect usually reserved for the "Iliad."

Some of the songs aren't bad. ("Harmony," a newer project by Manilow and Bruce Sussman, features some surprisingly effective stuff.) By contrast, lesser efforts such as Tony's ballad "Who Needs to Dream?" go in one ear, out the other and right down your shirt sleeve.

Director Warren's cast isn't risking a charisma overload. Hernandez's supremely unctuous villain fares best. D'Ambrosio, playing a character described as "kinda pushy," ignores the "kinda" part. Roberts works hard, but as conceived by librettists Manilow, Sussman and Jack Feldman--Sussman and Feldman also did the lyrics--her character puts the "uck" in "pluck."

For a few moments in Act 2, Burrell's Conchita shares the stage in a nightclub routine with featured dancers Judine Richard and Vicky Lambert. Here, finally, Cilento has something to work with. He has it again at the curtain call, when the title tune quits holding out on us and is heard in its entirety. That chucka-chucka backbeat, gleefully at odds with the story's setting, is a comforting sound after so much fake '40s folderol.

For a few minutes, anyway, it's the hottest spot west of Covina.

* "Copacabana," Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena. Today and Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Ends Feb. 25. $26 to $66. (213) 365-3500. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Copacabana

Franc D'Ambrosio: Stephen/Tony

Darcie Roberts: Lola

Terry Burrell: Conchita

Philip Hernandez: Rico

Music by Barry Manilow. Lyrics by Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman. Book by Barry Manilow, Jack Feldman and Bruce Sussman. Directed by David Warren. Musical staging and choreography by Wayne Cilento. Musical arrangements and orchestrations by Barry Manilow, Artie Butler and Andy Rumble. Scenic design by Derek McLane. Costumes by David C. Woolard. Lighting by Donald Holder. Production stage manager Nancy Elizabeth West.

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