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.
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."