Berkshire Theatre Festival

Copacabana, a CurtainUp Berkshire Review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review

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Lauren Elizabeth Loss as Lola, her greener than green outfit a symbol of the naive small town girl arriving in New York hoping to be one of the glamorous dancers at the Copacabana club.
One of the things I love about the cultural facilities that burst into full bloom in this area each summer is that every theater has its own distinct aura. Take the 36-year-old Mac-Haydn Theater in the charming old town of Chatham in New York. It is not the place to go to if you're looking for new shows that may end up on Broadway (e.g. The Twenty-fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee which moved from Barrington Stage in Sheffield to Broadway) or for well-known performers (e.g. Chris Noth starring in David Mamet's American Buffalo at Berkshire Theatre Festival). But for the flavor of a genuine country barn, let's put on a show (but on a grander, more professional scale), there's nothing quite like this musical theater in the round.

Scheduling problems and geography prevent my going to Chatham on a regular basis, but I've had enough good times there to recommend at least one visit to anyone from eight to eighty. Many producers working on a tight stage, with a small orchestra and actors still at the beginning of their careers would find it daunting to mount big, multi-set, lavishly costumed shows like My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof and Barnum. However, it is the very derring-do with which the Mac-Haydn's creative teams have staged such classic shows that made them quite special. Instead of being annoyed by the numerous blackouts required to move scenery on and off the stage via the theater's aisles, I've been bowled over by the splendid results that have been achieved.

As the theater has managed to handle these complicated shows with admirable aplomb, it has also attracted enough vocal and acting talent for regulars (the theater has many season subscribers) to have their own list of Mac-Haydn stars. Understandably, some of these actors move on to pursue other opportunities and it's not always possible to get equally strong newcomers in place.

All the above is by way of my first less than totally satisfying experience with a Mac-Haydn musical, Barry Manilow's Copacabana. The show's flimsy book centers on the familiar story of a New York bound small town girl who finds glamour as a nighclub show girl, love with a sweet wannabe tunesmith, and big trouble via a gangster and rival club owner -- in this case the New York to which she comes is that of the swing time forties when Manhattan was awash in famous nightclubs like the real one for which the show and its big hit number are named.

But Barry Manilow and his collaborators are hardly the creative equals of the librettists, composers and lyricists of the earlier mentioned musicals. Whereas those shows were built organically, with solid books and many memorable songs, Copacabana has tried to build a bouncy, best-selling pop tune into a solid musical theater piece.

Not to argue with success, the paper thin, derivative story did make it into a musical that worked as a TV movie (starring Manilow himself as Tony the wannabe songwriter and young Lola's Prince Charming). It also had a full of feathers and glitz run in Las Vegas as well as in London's West End. However, to paraphrase a bit from My Fair Lady's Professor Higgins, I've become accustomed to charms of more enduring Mac-Haydn productions. Copacabana is simply not on a par with those previously seen charmers.

Unfortunately this also applies to the cast. While Lauren Elizabeth Loss who plays Lola is lovely to look at, her voice and dancing are more competent than compelling; the same adjectives apply to Michael Kaczurak's Tony and Tony Guerrero's Rico, the show's villain who abducts Lola to his mob-controlled club in Havana.

Given the size constraints of the stage, Rusty Curcio and John Saunders are to be commended for getting the energetic ensemble to execute production number after production number, but there's a repetitiveness to their routines that even the constant changes into true to the period costumes (and hairdos) can't overcome. The fact that the dancing and singing rarely rises above mediocrity naturally doesn't help.

Not surprisingly, the two best performances come from two Mac-Haydn veterans, the Shook Sister -- Karla as the wise and knowing Gladys and Kelly as Rico's discarded star, a tall, skinny Carmen Miranda type named Conchita. It's these women's generosity and sisterhood with Lola that is the plot's strongest suite, though the borrowing from old Bob Hope-Bing Crosby road movies and countless other sources is rather shameless.

There was a time when there was talk of Copacabana (like Manilow's more recent project, Harmony) going to Broadway, but it never made the leap. I'm afraid, even this enterprising country theater can't turn the fake glitter of this show into genuine gold. Happily, for it's final big show of the season, Mac-Haydn has once again opted to do what it does best, a classic musical by a legendary team-- Brigadoon by Lerner & Loew.

Fiddler On the Roof
My Fair Lady

COPACABANA br>Book: Barry Manilow, Jack Feldman & Bruce Sussman
Music: Barry Manilow
Lyrics: Bruce Sussman & Jack Feldman
Directed and Choreographed by Rusty Cuncio & John Saunders
Musical Director Philip Kirschmann
Cast: Michael Kaczurak (Tony), Lauren Elizabeth Loss (Lola, Karla Shook (Gladys, Stephen Bolte (Sam Silver, Tony Guerrero (Rico Castelli, Kelly Shook (Conchita), Gavin Waters (McManus, Dancing Fool Production Singer/Dancer), Paul Colarusso (Willy) Felix Hess (Skip, production singer/dancer, partner in Dance Specialty Couple), Micheal Shiles (Maitred D' and Mr. Brill), Peter Hamon (Luis) Jered Fournier (Carlos), Bridget Cox (Veronica Lake), Ryan Latour (Escort, Bolero D'Amore Production Singer), Trisha Stever (woman in dance specialty couple)
Set Design: Kristian Perry
Costume Design: Cathleen Perry
Lighting Designer: Andrew Gmoser
Sound Design: Todd Hendricks
Mac-Haydn Theatre, Chatham, NY 518-392-9292--
August 11 to August 21, 2005
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 8/11 matinee
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Copacabana/Production singer; dancer & Copa Girls & Boys Just Arrived/Lola and Girls
  • Dancin' Fool/Production dancer; Singer & Copa Girls
  • Sweet Heaven/Tony
  • Heaven On Earth/Production Singer; Copa Girls & Boys
  • Man Wanted -- Auditions 2, 3 aand 4/Lola
  • Hoover Commercial/Tony & Chorus
  • Changin' My Tune/Tony
  • Copa Girl/Gladys
  • Man Wanted/Lola
  • Who Needs To Dream?/Tony
  • I Gotta Be Bad/Lola & Copa Girls
  • Bolero D' Amore/Rico, Lola, Production Singer, Dance Specialty Couple
Act Two
  • Who Am I Kidding?/Sam, Gladys, McManus, Willy, Tony & 2 Show Girls
  • Who Am I Kidding? (Reprise)/Gladys
  • Havana Caramba!/Conchita & Chorus
  • This Can't Be Real/Lola & Tony
  • El BravoLola with Pirates and Pirettes
  • >
  • Sweet Heaven (Reprise)/Tony
  • Copacabana/Entire Company for Finale
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