Review of The Grayshott Stagers' production of Barry Manilow's musical


"Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl". The opening lines from one of the most famous and popular disco songs ever produced, and with the same words The Grayshott Stagers' ambitious musical for 2004 - "Copacabana" - exploded to life on stage last week. Barry Manilow’s award-winning song of the same title is the inspiration for an evening of romance, of excitement and passion set mainly in the heart of a 1940s New York nightclub. Originally a television movie and then a Las Vegas spectacle starring Manilow himself, the show was expanded into a two-and-a-half hour musical comedy for the West End ten years ago with Gary Wilmot.

The story starts contemporarily, with geeky, aspiring songwriter Stephen as he struggles to match the right lyrics to a catchy tune that he has concocted. Then with a little inspiration from his wife Samantha on the eve of their fifth anniversary, his imagination transports him (and us) to the 1940s, to the time of big band swing and Latin rhythms. Maybe he'll find his inspiration here? Maybe!

In his dreams, Stephen (played by Nick Creaser) is bartender Tony at the Copacabana club where he meets hopeful starlet Lola La Mar (Alisa Creaser) and tries to help launch her on the path to stardom. So boy has met girl.

After convincing his boss to take her on as a girl in the chorus, boy falls in love with girl. As Manilow's song says: "at the Copa, they fell in love".

But just as they do fall in love, rival nightclub owner and gangster Rico Castelli (Wayne Richardson) and his brooding Latin lover Conchita (strongly acted by Stager's newcomer Julia Harris) show up. Rico, hypnotised by Lola's talent and beauty, plies her with drink and whisks her away to his nightclub in Havana. You guessed it, boy loses girl.

Tony sets off to get Lola back with the help of cheeky cigarette girl Gladys and nightclub boss, Sam. Worthy of note here is the superb comic timing of Teresa Marsh and Tony Harris, both of whom shine in the song "Who am I kidding" which nearly steals the show. But love, jealousy and murder ensue in the story before Tony can win back his Lola, and before Stephen can complete his song.

It's impossible not to imagine parallels between the show's crooning creator Manilow, and songwriter Stephen, but that is not important. What is important is that the Stagers have again pulled a stonker of a show out the bag under the imaginative direction of Tony Creasey and musical maestro Edward Roberts.

As the romantic leads, Nick and Alisa Creaser excel in their characterisations and in a duet where they are parted and each dreaming of the other, their voices blend beautifully. Nick shining in his soaring solos, and Alisa striking in her first entrance - a steamy shower scene at the start of the show!

As in any fashionable nightclub where music and passion rule the day, the dancing and apparel of those doing the dancing must be sensational. In both departments, the Stagers have drawn trump cards. The choreography by Megan Farrington and Kevin Bourne was inventive, fun and looked dazzling - from boleros to scantily clad tap dancing, to the rousing Latin jiving of the shows title song. Wardrobe mistress, Lynn Patton, is probably jointly responsible for the successful look of the show, as she co-ordinated the making and finding of an array of eye-grabbing costumes that fill the stage with colour and glamour.

Having lived in the area for over fifteen years, I think I can say that Haslemere hasn't seen many musicals so vibrant, embracing both the modern and good old-fashioned on its stage before. "Copacabana" continues its run at the Haslemere Hall on Bridge Street, on Thursday 6th, Friday 7th and Saturday 8th May - this week! - at 7.30 p.m. I recommend that you call the box office NOW on 01428 642161, as this is definitely one not to be missed.

J R Legat

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Copyright © 2004 J R Legat.
2nd May 2004