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Brother Augustine Towey, the skilled and savvy director of well over 100 plays at various venues around Western New York in a 30-year career, on his latest venture, "Copacabana," the splashy and rambunctious musical comedy inspired by Barry Manilow's 1978 Grammy-award winning song of the same title: "If you like Barry Manilow, you'll like this show," says Bro.

Well, that's probably, eventually true. But playgoers beware: It will take considerable effort on your part to make it so.

"Copacabana," the hit recording, spawned a television movie and a glitzy Atlantic City revue. Two years ago, British interests convinced Manilow to write a musical comedy. He did, and backers said that the show "enjoyed" a four-month tour and a successful run in London's West End. "Copacabana" then had its U.S. debut in Pittsburgh before going on the road for 30 months.

The show, then, somewhat circuitously, has arrived at Lewiston's Artpark with the music and some of the book by Manilow, the lyrics and the remaining script by his collaborators. Brother Augustine has his "A" team along: musical director Don Jenczka and choreographer Lynne Kurdziel-Formato; and a largely local cast led by award-winning Tony Sperry; Artpark's darling, Julie Burdick, as star-struck Lola; returning young pros Natalie Slipko, Louis Colaiacovo and Paschal Frisini; a sparkling newcomer, J. Courtney Taylor; and an effervescent young cast of singers and dancers gathered from Niagara University Theatre and the University at Buffalo.

The show, unfortunately, has an identity crisis -- even resorting to self-parody once or twice -- but while it's making up its mind what it is, there are moments of what Towey calls "good stuff."

Because "Copacabana" is one long dream sequence -- and dreams are, of course, skewed and distorted, full of improbables and implausibles -- the story takes many a twist and turn, cliches and stock characters fighting for billing. The music -- just about anything Sperry and Burdick sing, particularly "Sweet Heaven," "Just Arrived," "Who Needs to Dream?" and "This Can't Be Real" -- Courtney Taylor's sizzling "Welcome to Havana," the entertaining "Who Am I Kidding?" and the send-the-folks-home-happy, appropriately titled "Copacabana Finale" and Kurdziel-Formato's nonstop dance designs save the night. Kurdziel-Formato has choreographed hundreds of shows, and this could be her best work.

So, it's a mixed bag, this "Copacabana." The music, the embarrassing "Copa Girl" the exception, is often infectious, the story always sophomoric, the cast attractive and hard-working.

A last note: Sets patterned after the originals by Derek McLane are Spartan but clever; costumes by David Woolard are sensational.


Rating: * * 1/2

Musical comedy inspired by Barry Manilow's 1978 Grammy- award winning song.

Directed by Brother Augustine Towey.

Through Aug. 18 at Artpark, 450 Fourth St., Lewiston.

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