Filichia Features: Barry Manilow’s Copacabana Is Copacetic

Filichia Features: Barry Manilow’s Copacabana Is Copacetic

By Peter Filichia on September 07, 2018

Forty years ago, one song was ubiquitous.

You'd hear it in restaurants, bars, elevators and from open car windows.

"Copacabana" was a sensation for composer Barry Manilow and lyricists Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman.

The song takes place in Cuba, where "The Copa" is the hot spot. Showgirl Lola and bartender Tony are in love. When customer Rico sexually harasses Lola, Tony runs to her defense and is shot dead. Thirty years later, Lola still comes by the club, dressed in the fashions of yore, having not only "lost her youth" but also having "lost her mind."

Considering that the song itself told a story, it had all the makings of a musical - which it's had as a TV movie musical, a successful Atlantic City attraction, a London hit and a statewide tour.

Barry Manilow's Copacabana -- the composer is the best-known writer -- hasn't yet seen Broadway. Perhaps your production can be the one to get there.

The musical expands the story and gives a happy ending worthy of the MGM musicals it homages. Use a palette as vivid as any Metrocolor feature.

The story now has Stephen penning a song about the famed Copa in Manhattan. Wife Samantha wishes he'd pay more attention to their fifth anniversary tonight. Stephen can't, for he's busy creating Tulsa native Lola who -- in a nice tribute to his wife - he sees in the role.

Lola sings that she's "Just Arrived" in New York and expects stardom. But another dozen Lolas just got off of the train and sing about their expected success, too.

Stephen himself enters the action as Copa entertainer and self-proclaimed "Dancing Fool" Tony. He'll be more foolish when he sees Lola, who's dropped in to see the New York landmark: "Sweet heaven, I'm in love again!" he croons.

Lola isn't as smitten because Tony cautions that her road to success won't be as short as she expects. One day later, Lola sees his point. She gets perfunctory "Thank yous" at auditions for Brigadoon and South Pacific - the same response that Tony gets when warbling his songs for publishers.

Lucky for Lola that the Copa's cigarette girl Gladys is a cheerer-upper who insists that Lola can be "a Copa girl" in the club's world-famous revue. Insensitive club owner Mr. Silver isn't so sure, especially when Lola doesn't know enough to bring an accompanist with her.

Tony's there, though, not just to play but also to make needed improvements - which convince Mr. Silver: "You're hired!" Tony sings "Who Needs to Dream (When There Is You?)" to the grateful Lola who feels the same way.

Later mobster Rico Castelli enters. (Stage direction: "He wears his ego like a medal.") With him is Conchita, his girlfriend … but not for long, after Rico sees Lola perform. The number's a clever one: Copa Girls are dressed Rosie the Riveter, WACS, WAVES and Salvation Army Sergeants to make the point that they were busy during the war, but now - and here comes the strip - "I Want to Be Bad."

Lola will be once Rico gets her drunk. Worse, he drugs her drink and kidnaps her on a plane to Havana, where his Tropicana is Cuba's biggest nightclub. Conchita's the star there … but not for long. Her number gives your choreographer the chance to stage a rhumba, a mambo, the samba and everything else that '40s legend Carmen Miranda ever tried.

Now Rico wants Lola to replace Conchita, "because," he flatly tells her, "you're too old." Conchita vows revenge.

Back at the Copa, Tony hears what happens and gets on a plane to Havana. Even the allegedly hard-hearted Mr. Silver is moved to come along.

Conchita inveigles her way into Lola's room to injure her - until she sees the lass's distress at having been kidnapped. Now she wants to save her from Rico. He bursts in and is none too gentle with Conchita. Sings Lola, trying to be in denial, "This Isn't Real."

But it is.

Conchita teaches her number to both Lola and the just-arrived Tony. Once he enters in place of the usual dancer, incensed Rico pulls a gun. He would have pulled the trigger too if Conchita weren't there to plug him in the back.

There are no ramifications, though; remember, this is Stephen's fantasy. When Samantha emerges in Lola's dress, he's ready to celebrate that anniversary.

Do it for real or play it with a wink. Either way, your audience is sure to stand and clap in rhythm when the song "Copacabana" ends the show.


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