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Manilow Scores: Songs From Copacabana And Harmony by Barry Manilow

To the general public, Barry Manilow is known as a vocalist and songwriter who established his reputation with hit after hit in the 1970’s, surely setting him up for a long stream of royalty payments that would ensure a comfortable standard of living, to say the least, for the rest of his life. But before Manilow struck gold with "Mandy" in 1971, he was writing off-Broadway musicals and studying at the BMI Musical Workshop Theater with his friend Bruce Sussman. Now that Manilow has received every major award but an Oscar (although he was nominated for "Ready To Take A Chance Again" from Foul Play in 1978), and now that Concord Records has granted him the freedom to explore projects of interest to him, Manilow (along with Sussman) is going back to his original roots in theater a fact that may explain the theatrical nature of most of his songs with their narratives and dramatic high points and memorable melodies.

Manilow and Sussman have worked to write and produce not one, but two, musical productions. One is familiar: the story of Lola, who moves from Tulsa to New York to dance at the "Copacabana," the name of one of Manilow’s three-decades-ago hits. Now Manilow has written additional music to expand the concept into a full-blown musical. Sussman has written the lyrics and collaborated with Manilow and Jack Feldman on the book for what is now a two-act play, complete with singing, dancing, violence, wide-eyed ingenue wonder, love and lost innocence, all of which were suggested in the compact original song.

The other play is even more intriguing, perhaps because the concept is new and revelatory. Manilow researched the rise and fall of the Comedian Harmonists, a German group of singer/entertainers who rose to such fame that they worked with Marlene Dietrict, Josephine Baker and other top names around the world in the 1930’s. Just as quickly, the six boys disbanded their group at the height of their success, a casualty of the paranoia and artistic ostracism imposed by Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Suddenly, the wild popularity of the Comedian Harmonists evaporated and they were forgotten.

Until now.

Manilow Scores: Songs From Copacabana And Harmony includes abbreviated scores of representative music from both musicals. The "Copacabana" segment features just seven of the show’s 16 musical numbers, giving a taste of the story’s development, from Lola’s arrival by train in New York to her final dizzying scene in the nightclub where chaos ensues. The plot and themes of Harmony, likewise, are outlined by seven songs. Those take the listener from the introductory number, "Harmony" which winds together all of the threads of the plot suggestions and the characters to wishes for peace and hope in the midst of the war.

And so, Manilow Scores is quite unlike any previous Manilow CD, this one being a compression of two shows that he has written rather than being a string of unrelated songs. Quite theatrical with schmaltz and heart-on-the-sleeve emotion, the music of Manilow finds its true home, which is the Broadway stage, where he applied his first ambitions, only to find fame instead. The CD covers an expanse of Broadway musical styles from starry-eyed ballads to the passionate intensity of bolero, from cane-and-derby-hat light fantastic tripping to chugga-chugga "Don’t Rain On My Parade"-like determination. It appears that the budget for the recording was fairly expansive as well, for Manilow sings before a full orchestra with full complements of violins, French horns and even a couple of harpists. Even though some of the songs were written for an entire cast and included specific references to events within the show, Manilow and Sussman adapted a few of them so that Manilow could sing them all, no matter which character in the play performs the song. Thus, Manilow himself remains the sole voice throughout the entire album.

With one exception.

Olivia Newton-John, another singer attaining a huge degree of popularity in the 1970’s, joins Manilow on the duet he wrote, "This Can’t Be Real." And sure enough, Newton-John sounds just as she did back then, particularly in her duets with John Travolta in Grease, and Manilow’s voice is also as recognizable now as it was then.

It’s apparent that Manilow is comfortable in the theatrical environment, where music is an essential component of the story-telling experience as it makes indelible the memory of its events. The music he wrote for Copacabana and Harmony is just the latest in his series of accomplishments, and perhaps one of his proudest achievements. At a time in his life when Barry Manilow could be taking it easy and looking back at his continuing stream of awards, he’s catching up on unfinished work from his youth which now has been finished with a more comprehensive scope than if Manilow had written it as a struggling songwriter pre-"Mandy."

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Barry Manilow
  • CD Title: Manilow Scores: Songs From Copacabana And Harmony
  • Genre: Other
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Concord Records
  • Tracks: Copacabana: Just Arrived, Dancin’ Fool, Who Need To Dream?, Sweet Heaven (I’m In Love Again), Bolero de Amor, This Can’t Be Real, Copacabana (At The Copa) Harmony: Harmony, And What Do You See?, Every Single Day, This Is Our Time!, Where You Go, In This World, Stars In The Night
  • Musicians: Barry Manilow (vocals, piano); Steve Welch, Ron Walters, Andy Rumble (piano); Ron Ledley (piano, synthesizers); Mike Lent (guitar); Chuck Berghofer (bass); Russ McKinnon (drums) Joe Soldo (conductor); Lee Callet, Bob Carr, Gene Cipriano, Jeff Driskill, Phil Feather, Dan Higgins, Greg Huckins (woodwinds); Rick Baptist, Wayne Bergeron, Warren Luening, Larry McGuire, Frank Szabo (trumpets); Bryant Byers, Craig Gosnell, Alan Kaplan, Bob McChesney, Charlie Moriallas, Chauncey Welsch (trombones); Dan Kelley, Paul Klintworth, John Reynolds, Trish Skye (French horns); Charlie Bisharat, Rebecca Bunnell, Eve Butler, Darius Campo, Kevin Connolly, Joel DeRouin, Lisa Dondlinger, Assa Drori, Bruce Dukov, Ron Folsom, Berj Garabedian, Peter Kent, Raymond Kobler, Johana Krejci, Jennifer Munday, Katia Popov, Jim Stark, Haim Strum, Yan Yo, Olivia Tsui Irina Voloshina, Dynell Weber, Sherrie Zippert (violins); Brett Banducci, Bob Becker, Caroline Buckman, Kenneth Burward-Hoy, Miguel Ferguson, Vickie Miskolszy, Kazie Pitelka, Harry Shiriman (violas); Trevor Handy, John Krovoza, Armen Ksajikian, Tim Landauer, Tina Soule, David Speltz, Cecilia Tsan (celli); Julie Berghofer, Gayle Levant (harp)
  • Rating: Two Stars
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