Friday, August 22, 2008

Manilow turns Copacabana into a TV musical

Cherry Hill, NJ
October 18, 1985

Manilow turns Copacabana into a TV musical

He waited years for the right idea

By Chuck Darrow

"For me personally," offers pop music superstar Barry Manilow with an "aw, shucks" grin, "I just like a challenge. I don't like to be bored. I like to cause trouble and I just pick these places where I can cause trouble."

The challenge of which Manilow speaks is Copacabana, a made-for-television musical which will air on CBS-TV on Tuesday, Dec. 3. Not only is the script based on the song of the same name (which was a Top Ten hit for Manilow several years ago), but the film also marks the acting debut of the skinny singer-composer who, for the past decade, has been one of the world's most successful recording artists.

According to Manilow, who begins a weekend stand at Caesars' Casino in Atlantic City tonight, Copacabana isn't just a quickie, only-in-it-for-the-bucks project.
He says the movie, which co-stars Annette O'Toole and Joseph Bologna, represents the end of a long search for the right vehicle with which to make his debut as a television star.

"I had a deal for four (television) specials, but I couldn't think of what to do," explains Manilow. "I couldn't think of something fresh that hadn't already been done.

"I had one or two offers a year, but they didn't turn me on. They were nice, but they didn't say what I wanted them to say. Then, two years ago, I made a phone call to Dick Clark (executive producer of Copacabana) and said we ought to develop Copacabana as a movie. We took it from there.

"I wanted to do it because Copa was part of my soul -- the song and I were one. It's an important song to me and I felt very close to it. It's more important to me than (the movie) Used Cars which was one of the things I was offered."

Copacabana is a literal translation of the song which tells the tale of singer-dancer Lola Lemar (sic) (O'Toole), and Tony Starr (Manilow) a piano-playing songwriter, who meet and fall in love at the famed Copacabana nightclub in the late 1940's, only to have their dreams of love and stardom shattered when a gangster (Bologna) who is in love with Lola murders Starr in a fit of jealous rage.

The film was done in a style highly reminiscent of the Hollywood nightclub musicals of that era, and while some viewers may feel the piece is a send-up of those movies, Manilow insists that Copacabana was made as a tribute to those types of films, and not as a campy parody.

"I'm not a crazy movie buff," he says, "but there was a color and a texture that I wanted for Copacabana. But it never entered anybody's mind to do it as camp. We've given a little nod to 1940s' films, but it wasn't meant to be campy.

" 'Camp' to me is insulting. We were serious, but we were trying to compliment the 1940s. We were trying to do a real 1940s' musical. We weren't being campy at all."
Though he waited a long time to take the acting plunge, Manilow was well-prepared. For the past five years, he has been taking acting lessons which, he says, have helped him on the concert stage as well as in front of the camera.

"I had been kvetching for years about doing a movie, but I realized I wouldn't be able to do it without taking lessons. I just knew that someday someone was going to present me with a script I really liked, and I wanted to be prepared.

"The lessons really turned me on. I really enjoyed getting into another character."
Despite the lessons and the fact that he has performed live for millions of people, Manilow claims that nothing prepared him for his first day on the set of Copacabana, during which he suffered a case of stage fright.

"I rehearsed with the script, but nothing could compare with that first day when they said, 'Action!' It was a little nerve-wracking having to work with 75 people watching. But it was just that first time, then it got easy."

The acting may have gotten easy, but seeing the result for the first time was yet another shock for the man who has recorded such smash hits as Mandy, I Write the Songs, Weekend in New England and Read 'Em and Weep.

"The first time I saw Copacabana I winced and gagged and hated every second of it," he admits. "It's a big shock seeing your face the size of a whole apartment building. Everything is magnified, and after watching it the first time, I ran the other way. You just don't expect half the things you see.

"Each time, though, it got better and better -- but I don't know how to assess myself as an actor."

The verdict on Manilow as an actor won't be in until after Copacabana airs, but there's no question among his millions of fans as to his worth as a musical performer. Though it is quite fashionable among music critics to dismiss him as a hack writer whose lyrics and melodies can be dangerous to diabetics, his audience is as loyal and vociferous as Bruce Springsteen's, and this weekend's set at Caesars -- his first local appearance in four years -- is sure to delight those in attendance.
Manilow promises a brand new show as far as staging is concerned and adds that while he will perform many of his most popular numbers, this tour is a bit different musically from previous outings.

"It's a brand new concert," he says. "It's up-tempo, a rock 'n' roll concert -- as rock 'n' roll as I can get." He adds that he will also include some material from his forthcoming album, Manilow, which will be released on Oct. 28.

While most entertainers who play the casinos often have to alter their material for a gambling crowd, Manilow feels he doesn't have to worry about changing his show, because wherever he plays, his hard core fans -- mostly young females -- are sure to be there.

"My audience shows up at the casinos," he says with the boyish grin that sets so many female hearts a-flutter. "So it's not an older audience when I play casinos. It's the same bunch of crazos -- but lovely crazos."