By CHARLES WHALEY
Only an iron-willed individual could come away from Derby Dinner Playhouse’s pulsating theatrical treatment of Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” without that song’s infectious melody pounding through the brain.
Director/associate producer Lee Buckholz, who works wonders with musicals, and producer Bekki Jo Schneider lavish skill and affection on the oft-used tale of a small-town girl with show-biz dreams who snags song-and-dance stardom, this time at New York’s famed Copacabana club in 1947.
Kayla Peabody is the entrancing girl (“her name was Lola, she was a showgirl”) who hits the Big Apple from Tulsa and quickly gets taken under the wing of wise-cracking ex-Copa, now cigarette, girl Gladys Murphy (Cami Glauser).
Songwriter/dancer Tony Forte (Jordan Cyphert) is immediately smitten, and tough-talking softie club owner Sam Silver (John Vessels) hires her as a Copa girl.
The show morphs into a kind of technicolor noir travelogue when Mafia gangster Rico Castelli (virile singer Nick Fitzer) and Conchita Alvarez (the smashing Jillian Prefach), his longtime lover and star of his Tropicana nightclub in Havana, catch Lola’s act in New York. Rico kidnaps Lola and shanghais her to Cuba to make her his new star.
This cheesy B-movie plot naturally takes a violent turn before true love reunites Lola and Tony. The cast then crowds the stage to do “Copacabana” one last time.
Visually the show is a knockout with top honors going to Sharon Murray Harrah’s fabulous costumes, starting with white-gowned showgirls sporting feathered headdresses and looking as if they’d stepped from Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.” Partnered with elegant dancing men in white tuxes, they later appear in glittering red costumes exposing bare midriffs.
Outstanding, too, is Heather Paige Folsom’s dynamic choreography.
Manilow’s other catchy melodies besides the title tune include “Sweet Heaven (I’m in Love Again” for Tony, who is spectacular in his “Dancin’ Fool” routine with the men, Conchita’s “Welcome to Havana” a la Carmen Miranda, and sexy, evil Rico’s “Bolero D’Amore” with ensemble.
Sam and Gladys, show stealers par excellence in Vessels and Glauser, nail the big comic number “Who Am I Kidding?” about ineffectual Sam’s plan to play hero to help Tony rescue Lola.
Musical director Scott Bradley, on piano, and his musicians — Darryel Cotten, drums; Mark McCulloch, bass; Timothy Whalen, woodwinds, and Stacy Simpson, trumpet — provide exemplary accompaniment.
Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman, Manilow’s longtime collaborators, are his lyricists while all three wrote the book for the show, which ran two years in London but has never been on Broadway. It started life as a 1985 TV movie.
“Copacabana” runs through March 30. For tickets and information: 812-288-8281; toll free 877-898-8577, or derbydinner.com