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by on 10 April 2019

Feathers, Sparkle and Passion

Copacabana – The Musical

music by Barry Manilow, lyrics by Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman, book by Barry Manilow, Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman

TOPS Musical Theatre Company at Hampton Hill Theatre until 13th April

Review by Jennifer King

There was a great buzz in the foyer of Hampton Hill Theatre on the opening night of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana – The Musical. As a well-known larger-than-life show full of music and passion, this musical is a real feel-good concoction of feathers and sparkle, which this audience were clearly greatly looking forward to.


The curtains opened to reveal a large-scale set with two sweeping staircases either side, designed and realised by Wes Henderson-Roe. Unflowery and versatile, and with minimal dressing, it never overpowered the piece and created a base to transport the audience into the varying locations of the action as it moves from New York to Havana. It has become the norm to secrete the band behind the set or off in the wings, but in this instance we were allowed to see them in all their glory and finery, appropriately attired for the atmosphere, upstage beneath the raised rostra which added to the sense of the nightclub environment. MD John Davies maintained great pace and level through all the players, and they believably created the feel of a swinging nightclub orchestra.


The story opens with the character Stephen, working on the composition of a hit musical – or so he hopes. As we hear his wife from offstage calling him to get ready for their 5th anniversary night out, we realise that, entirely engrossed in his work, he is somewhat neglectful of their relationship. Tom Daniels as Stephen created a solid and consistent performance throughout, particularly excelling late in Act I in the number ‘Who Needs to Dream’, a beautifully smooth and congruent delivery laden with emotion.

Switching to the Copa nightclub in New York circa the late 1940s, Stephen morphs into Tony Forte who, whilst tending bar, is trying also to become a successful songwriter. The ‘Copa Opening’ number was delivered by the full cast with gusto, setting the scene for where the story is to take us. As Lola la Mar arrives in New York from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the ladies’ ensemble presented a montage of the hopes and dreams of young girls everywhere arriving and hoping to see their name up in lights one day in ‘Just Arrived’.


Becky Silverstein as Lola was more than up to the task and seemed to relish the challenges of this role, especially during her audition scenes when she showed a good range of sensuality, exuberance and confidence, even in the face of continued rejection. When she connects at last with Tony her star is born, and as a team they move into ascendance.

Choreography by Kimberley Powell, a seasoned performer in professional theatre productions, was imaginative and effective, making full use of the large ensemble in the big company numbers. Whilst I applaud the use of the whole cast, they were sometimes hampered by the size of the stage; I felt that such an over-the-top musical merits a much larger venue to really showcase the dancing and the costumes, however the glamorous troupe of Copa girls more than strutted their stuff despite the limitations of the space.

There were some lovely featured moments for the dancers, including a solo with some really impressive lifts by Dance Captain Antonia Anthony and James Madge in ‘Bolero d’Amore’. In the ‘Dancing Fool’ number led by Stephen inside the Copa, it would have been nice if he had shown us a little more movement – as we saw later he was obviously a very capable dancer.

Bee Wilkinson gave a sterling performance as former Copa showgirl turned cigarette seller Gladys Murphy. With a consistently believable New York accent, her great comic timing and lovely voice offered us a fantastic version of ‘Copa Girl’, which illustrates the perks to which all the girls aspire. Bee was every bit the match to Ian Stark’s comedic and exuberant Sam Silver, owner of the Copa, who gave a strong and reliable performance.

Act I closes with the arrival at the Copa club of Rico Castelli, an Italian gangster with a predilection for running off with Sam’s showgirls. Dan Stark portrayed the part of Rico with a subtle and restrained, yet ever-present, menace, whilst his lover Conchita Alvarez was beautifully played by Cate Blackmore in a fully-realised characterisation, showing all of the nuances and layers of a woman wronged, yet so much in love. With an excellent singing voice, I would like to have seen her give even more pizzazz in her number ‘Ay Carumba’ at the start of Act II.

The ensemble were fully committed to their various roles throughout the piece. Special mention goes to Sue Neale as the Copa soloist who also demonstrated virtuosity on the saxophone, and Ellie Barrett and Alex Alderson who featured in singing numbers later on, showcasing great stage presence through their entirely believable performances.
Costumes were presented at the perfect level throughout and demonstrated great variation, especially for the showgirls who had quantities of quick changes. However it does slightly irk me when I see mismatching undergarments and shoes, which for a group of showgirls at a premier club such as the Copa, should really be all the same. Sound was consistent and balanced throughout, and whilst lighting was generally excellent, it must be noted that there were a couple of moments when lights facing the audience were a little blinding.

Overall, TJ Lloyd’s direction presented us with a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment which showed his skills in facilitating such a large cast. When we return to Stephen’s apartment at the end of the show and we see him realise that his dream-girl character Lola was actually an incarnation of his wife, it renews his love for her, a classic happy ending which left the audience on a huge high.

Jennifer King
April 2019

Photography by Ace

From → Musicals, Reviews

One Comment
  1. Great post 😁

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