2018 (Spring Show) - Copacabana

Production/Creative Team

Directors - Laura Leadbetter & Will Taylor

Choreographer - Sarah Neale

Muscial Director - Luke Holman

Producer - Mary Parker

Stage Manager - Becky Loxton

Deputy Stage Manager - Simon Lean

Cast List

Tony - James Newton

Lola - Jess Russell

Sam - Matt Turner

Gladys - Elspeth Salmon

Conchita - Anna Gifford

Rico - Matthew Maisey 

Willy - David Williams

McManus/Male Auditionee - Dave Bonser

Announcer/Mr Brill/Carlos - Matt Wilson

Just Arrived solos - Floss Berry & Olivia Kerton

Commercial solos - Cherry Lewis & Alison Houselander

Who am I kidding solos - Amy Higgins & Bethany Baker

Female Company

Floss Berry, Kate Hatt, Alison Houselander, Bethany Baker, Sarah Roberts, Fiona White, Mary Parker, Cherry Lewis, Judi Neale, Annie Cave, Janice Holwill, Laura Vernoum, Becky Cook, Olivia Kerton, Harriet Durston, Amy Higgins, Lucy Hobman, Rahanna Griffin, Sally Wood, Alison Coals

Male Company

Lee Butt, Matthew Maisey, David Williams, Matt Wilson, Dave Bonser

Off stage singing

Ross Everson

Reviews, Emails & Comments

Somerset Fellowship of Drama - The David Beach Competition: Saturday 21stApril 2018

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ as the saying goes. Well, my life gave me lemons in the early hours of the morning with a sad event so Saturday was a little ‘flat’ to say the least. Perhaps a trip to Strode for a spot of Musical Theatre would be my ‘lemonade’. Was I looking for a profound theatrical experience, pushing the boundaries of the genre, packed with heartfelt songs, angst and emotion? Well, very luckily in this case: no. Barry Manilow’s collaboration with Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman is no Les Mis but for me, on Saturday night it was just what the doctor (assuming he had a great fondness for sequins and feathers) would have ordered.

Even as books for musicals go, Copacabana is thin to the point of undernourishment. It is, essentially the physical playing of the story of Manilow’s enormously successful, knowingly cheesy hit song of the same name. The show started life as a TV special in 1985, developing through the nineties into a full-scale musical, becoming available to the amateur stage only quite recently.

Directors Laura Grace and Will Taylor, along with fellow creatives MD Luke Holman and Choreographer Sarah Neale had clearly made a decision to ‘go for it’ with their production. It worked. Both literally and figuratively it sparkled: more sequins, feathers and rhinestones than a convention of drag queens could boast; big, sharp, spectacular dance routines with more long-legged, high-heeled glamour than the Rio Carnival; terrific singing and a great band all combined with a huge sense of fun. Frothy, camp and cheesy? Yes, but proudly and quite magnificently so.   

The music, other than the eponymous title track was written specifically for the show and features a pleasant smorgasbord of styles from bolero to Latin to matinee-idol love songs. There is often a sense, when listening to most of the tunes that they are reminiscent of other musicals but this spoils nothing as style splendidly overrides content at the Copa. The orchestra, cleverly located on stage were very good indeed. Musical Director Luke Holman knows his business and the sound was tight, balanced and perfectly timed. Some great brass and punchy percussion, balanced by sensitive keyboard work supported the onstage work with appropriate pizzazz.

Performances were great to watch: James Newton as songwriter Stephen/Tony, showed off his lovely singing voice and Jess Russell as his wife/inamorata Samantha/Lola did the same, in combination with her trademark comic acting skills to give us a very watchable leading pair. Matt Turner’s Dad/Sam was funny and Elspeth Salmon went nicely OTT as Gladys/Mom. Matt Maisey’s panto-villainesque Rico and Anna Gifford, his energetic, though aging Conchita (the role – never the actress, of course) were great fun too. All of the principals had an effortless quality to their performances, meaning that the slick, sharp pace Laura Grace and Will’s direction had imparted on the show maintained a great energy throughout. 

It was impossible to miss the dance element of this show. Sarah Neale’s routines showed the result of a great deal of work. Synchronisation was impressive as was the artistry of many of the dancers. I recognised several as Southwest School of Dance alumni and their quality certainly showed. Though the rest of the cast all delivered some striking hoofing.

The technical side of this production added enormously to the glamour and spectacle enjoyed by the audience: Chris Sealy showing his considerable expertise as a lighting designer; Joe Rockett and his team from Bright* delivering their usual, high quality work in sound and set construction but it was Will and Laura Grace’s amazing Videography and Animation, projected onto the backdrop and proscenium arch which lifted the visual impact into the stratosphere. Animated sequences, perfectly synchronised with the onstage action served to set scenes with great effect and to support and enhance the ‘moment’. Very impressive indeed.

I had a great evening watching Copacabana.On reflection it is, for me a bit like Barry Manilow’s hit records: not cool, not obviously sophisticated or challenging but they remain something of a guilty pleasure. This production threw all of their very many talents at the show, I thought I saw a kitchen sink fly through the air at one point, and it really worked. Would I relish watching Copacabana again? Well no, not much but I would cheerfully sign-up to watching this cast and production team delivering absolutely anything at all. And they made my lemonade.

Thanks for inviting me

Ian Hurdman

Somerset Fellowship of Drama – David Beach Competition Adjudication: Thursday 19th April 2018


Strode Theatre is a mixed arts venue, attached to Strode College, opened in 1963 and since refurbished and expanded to provide a useful performance space with seating for 343.  Car parking is available close by and there is a licensed bar.

We were expected and, when collecting tickets from the Box Office were provided with a programme and a drinks voucher for use in the interval, for which thanks very much. During the Interval a member of the Society asked if any further information was required and offered to introduce me to the Director at the end of the show. So the welcome was, as it should be, warm without being pushy.

Please accept this adjudication as constructive criticism: I have no wish to hurt or unjustly criticise.

Choice of Show

The show is based upon the well known Barry Manilow song, expanded into a TV film, starring BM, in 1985 and then further re-inforced by a stronger story-line by Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman and the addition of new songs.  It’s still a pretty weak story but it is full of good tunes and, in the right hands, is guaranteed to leave an audience feeling good 

In order to mount the show you need a team of better than average dancers, preferably of both sexes, and some strong principal singers. This is, therefore, a good choice of show for a Society that has links with the College and local dance studios.

Auditorium Pre-set & Welcome

As one would expect from a purpose-built theatre the view of the stage was good and un-interrupted. Tabs were open and there were speakers at high level on both sides of the stage.  The stage was thrust into the space normally used by the orchestra. Sound and light were controlled from the back of the auditorium and there were lanterns hung on vertical bars at the sides and spotlights and a monitor link to the MD on the balcony. We found our way to our seats and the theatre looked almost full which improved the atmosphere.

The A4 programme was printed in full colour on glossy paper and contains a lot of information about cast and technicians. It was good to see the mention for the David Beach awards in the programme. The Society is well supported by local business advertising which must meet the printing costs and, probably, shows a welcome profit.

Because of the thrust stage, The orchestra were housed underneath and behind the central rostrum but partially in view of the audience.  This did not interfere with the sound balance but, especially when the bar was moved for Act 2, I found the view of them distracting at times. I would have preferred not to see them at all, just enjoy the sound they were making.

Direction and movement

The direction of the show by Laura Grace and Will Taylor was well thought out.  There is a requirement for better than average dancers and they achieved this with a small troupe of athletic and attractive girls who caught the eye even when the whole cast was on stage. Strictly, Dancing Fool is for male dancers but, accepting that these were not available, good use was made of the girls with a nice tap-dance sequence. Well done to dance captain Harriet Durston.

There was good pace generally with some quite intricate choreography which was not especially original but there was a bustling atmosphere. When the entire cast was dancing the choreography was simple but well performed. There were odd moments when the pace sagged a bit: I found Who needs to dream and  This can’t be real a bit flat at times, but this was remedied by the energy and enthusiasm in the big dance numbers.  I particularly enjoyed the opening and closing numbers and the El Bravo ballet. Well done to choreographer Sarah Neale. There were some impressive stage pictures and good ensemble playing.  Congratulations on making what could be a very difficult show to produce, look easy.

Set Design

Set design was based around a video wall. There was a central rostrum with safety barriers which was used well and effectively, providing high level entrances on both sides of the stage. Behind the rostrum was a full height video screen and video was also projected onto the front walls of the proscenium arch.  The video used was very professionally produced, as far as I can tell from the programme, by the joint Directors in conjunction with the professional lighting team.  Congratulations to The Creative Team for producing such a professional result, incorporating video clips of cast members as well as transporting us 1300 miles south to Havana.  Whilst I am impressed by the end result I found it, at times, distracting: for example the very busy hearts cascading up the video wall distracted from the drama of This can’t be real.  For me maybe less would, at times, have been more.  However the removal of the need for physical scene changes probably made up for this small quibble.

Stage Management 

Because scene changes were largely achieved through video, there was little need for a stage crew but what they had to do was done well and unobtrusively


The orchestra was well balanced with the singers and I could hear most of the words. I imagine there were some microphones on the stage to amplify the tap sound and this sounded very good. Head mikes were well used with good fading. Good work by the professional team from bright* (production services).


These were very good and well handled.  All were in keeping with the production.  Finding all those suitcases for Just Arrived  must have been time consuming for Mo and Andy Pickford.  However Champagne must produce a mousse when poured and sparkle thereafter.  I’m sorry I noticed that yours was distinctly flat!

Musical Direction 

The orchestra was outstanding: I recognise many names amongst the players. The balance was spot on and never drowned the singers.  Singing and dancing strenuously at the same time is not easy and I felt that the cast delivered very well. Both principals and chorus produced an excellent sound.  Congratulations to Luke Holman for putting it all together.


Lighting was hung well within the auditorium and over the stage and produced some good effects. Because the look of the show relied so heavily on technical wizardry with the video wall, the other lighting took second place but I did not notice any problems so well done to the professional team led by Chris Sealy.


The costumes were excellent and really added to the look of the show. I didn’t count the number of changes but there were many and they all looked superb from the multi colours in Just Arrived to the black and white in Rico’s Entrance and the piratical costumes in El Bravo. Well done Di Gifford and team for sourcing and making such a diverse collection.  

 Hair and Make-up

These were all appropriate and enhanced the actors. Well done to all involved

Individual Performances:

James Newton – Stephen/Tony

You have a really pleasant singing voice, easy to listen to, and you delivered your numbers well.  However at times I found your acting less convincing. At times you looked nervous as if you weren’t sure of yourself. Perhaps a little more relaxation would improve your performance.  

Jess Russell – Samantha/Lola

An excellent singing voice both solo and ensemble and you raised a smile from me with your audition antics.  Excellent

Matt Turner – Sam/Dad

Your performance improved as the show developed and by the scene in the Apartment you were on fine form.  You have a strong voice and stage presence  and Who am I kidding was especially well performed.

Elspeth Salmon – Gladys/Mom

A great comedic role for you and you delivered well.  Occasionally I lost your words but your singing voice was spot on for this part – a touch of the Ethel Merman?

Anna Gifford – Conchita

Your professional training showed well and you brought a touch of pathos to the part of the faded performer.  Ay Caramba showcased your singing and dancing talent and you acted well. Very Good

Matthew Maisey – Rico

A good convincing performance that ticked all the singing, acting and dancing boxes. You brought out the sinister nature of your character and sang well.

Remainder of the CompanyI

This is a large cast and I don’t propose to name you all individually but it was a wonderful evening thanks to the spectacle provided by so many people on stage enjoying themselves and some excellent singing.  You all played your parts well and looked good and I hope that you all had as much fun as the audience. However I would caution some of you about lack of smiles. Sometimes in the complicated routines some of you forgot to smile and this affects the audience enjoyment. However this show involves a lot of dancing and, my goodness, you certainly delivered. You made a good sound avoiding the “shoutiness” that sometimes accompanies big choral numbers and this was a most enjoyable evening that sent us all out of the theatre with smiles on our faces.

I was really glad to be invited to adjudicate on this show and look forward to seeing many of you performing again in the future. 

Well done to all of you.

Chris Bailward 

NODA South West - Review: Tuesday 17th April 2018

In April I was privileged to be invited to see Glastonbury and Street Musical Society’s production of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana.  As a rep I have the wonderful opportunity of being invited to see many different productions and occasionally, as with this one, I get invited to see a show that not only have I not seen but, embarrassingly, know nothing about!

The play is based on one of Barry Manilow’s most famous, Non-Amanda based, songs and follows the story of struggling actress Lola who finds employment at The Copacabana and love in the guise of Tony.  This new found love and employment is threatened by the arrival of Rico and his long suffering partner Conchita and, just in case the story wasn’t complicated, it’s all in the imagination of Stephen a struggling song writer.

Unsurprisingly, the strongest song in the whole show is Copacabana with the other songs paling somewhat in comparison, although “Man Wanted” and “Who Am I Kidding” offered some comic fun.

The curtains on the production opened early, allowing the audience an early glimpse of the stage.  I always like productions that open the curtains early as it gives the audience a perfect opportunity to have a nose at the set before the show starts, and what a clever set it was.  Basically a very simple set with two sets of stairs either side of a walkway, over a glass panel with the band clearly on show behind and, apart from the introduction of a large projection wall at the rear, that was it!  I was a bit concerned when I saw the projection wall as I am still unsure if I think they are a good thing or not.  However, here it was not only a good thing but an incredibly essential piece of the stage.  With at least 8 different scenes, this production really benefitted from the quick scene changes that having the screen allowed and it was used incredibly well.  Overall, the simplistic set just looked fantastic, a massive well done to Bright Production Services Ltd and of course Will Taylor and Laura Grace for the amazing animation that was on the projection wall.

The sound and the lighting for this production was expertly handled and, apart from a few crackles during one of the scenes, there were no problems at all.  The sound was crisp and clear and the lighting was beautifully done and worked well with the staging to produce a real nightclub style effect.

The costumes were superb and looked great, especially in the nightclub dancing scenes when everyone was dressed the same.  Again the effect here really helped give the impression of a 1940s style nightclub.  With so many dancers and so many costume changes it must have been a nightmare to keep everything moving along smoothly so massive congratulations to Di Gifford, Sarah Neale and Liz Bradwell.

The songs were all beautifully sung and impressively performed in full American accent, not always an easy trick to pull off.  The orchestra, under the control of Luke Holman, were great and managed to produce a real solid sound without overpowering the singers on the stage.

The choreography by Sarah Neale was very good throughout the evening, especially during the nightclub scene when the nightclub dancers were putting on their show.

During my reviews, I normally like to give credit to any chorus/ensemble members that I felt stood out from the crowd.  In this production there were a couple of the ladies that really stood out for me but unfortunately, the pictures in the programme are so small, I found it impossible to pick them out.

The casting for this production was spot on and James Newton and Jess Russell, easily carried the production as the two leads.  They acted so well together, that I had to check the programme to see if they were an actual couple!  Elspeth Salmon and Anna Gifford were physically unrecognisable in their roles as Gladys and Conchita and both had some great comic moments that showed they both really understand how to play comedy.  Both these ladies also had to overcome some very strong accents, which they managed well without any “Somerzet” accidentally slipping in, although I did find Gladys’ accent and mannerisms a little over the top.  Matthew Maisey was, as usual, on top form as Rico and made a very likeable baddie.  It always amazes me that Matthew can play so many different types of role with ease and it must be a director’s dream having him in the cast.  Normally, a performance like Matthew’s would have been more than enough to crown him the star performer but this time he was just outshone by a fantastic performance by, relative newcomer, Matt Turner in the role of Sam.  Matt played his part so well and managed to balance humour, intimidation and sadness with perfection, his performance in the song “Who Am I Kidding” was the comedic highlight of the night, as was his “realistic” wig.

Overall, even though I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I hoped I would, I really enjoyed your production of it.  Your production was slick, smooth and very stylish and the use of the projection wall really benefitted the production, it is great to see modern technology being used in this way.  Thank you very much for inviting me and I look forward to visiting you guys soon.

Leigh Conley, SW Regional Representative District 8


Name of Production:‘COPACABANA’
by Barry Manilow
Date:19TH April 2018
Venue:Strode College, Street
Adjudicator:Claire Morris

Copacabana, the 1994 musical, is as knowingly cheesy and outrageous as the Barry Manilow hit on which it is based.   It is the song Copacabana which ambitious New York songwriter Stephen is attempting to write on the night of his fifth wedding anniversary, much to his wife Samantha’s despair.  He has his head in the music while she is desperately getting ready for a night out.   This framing narrative soon fades, without totally disappearing from view, as Stephen becomes immersed in the creative process.  Out from behind the gauze step the Copacabana showgirls in all their feathery glory; fresh from Oklahoma comes the lovely Lola La Mar; and Stephen himself slips on the mantle of Tony, a singer at Manhattan’s world-famous Copacabana club.   Illusion is very much the name of the game.   We watch as Stephen struggles to write a song about one of his own kind, Tony, who falls head over heels for Lola, newly arrived at the Copacabana Club.  When Lola is drugged and kidnapped by Rico, the wicked owner of Havana's Tropicana Club, Tony and the rest of the gang go galloping to the rescue.   The adventures completed, the songwriter realises he has been really writing a love story based on his own wife.

Clever use was made of the stage where action effectively took place throughout on two different levels, the upper stage being accessed by metal stairs and rails incorporated into the set, and we could pleasingly see the orchestra too.  This allowed for good flexibility to move from different settings such as Grand Central Station to The Copa, Stephen’s Studio to the Tropicana Stage and allowed for a good flow to the production.   Using the backdrop and proscenium arch for projection, and occasional entrances/exits through the audience really maximized the space and embrace the audience.  

I loved the fact that the orchestra were actually on stage and thus an integral part of the production, as they should be.   The musical numbers in Copacabana are a real mix, including soft love songs, Latin and bolero numbers.   This gave the orchestra a chance to demonstrate their talent and expertise in all sorts of areas, which they most certainly did.   The sound was always well balanced with accurate timing and we heard some powerful brass and percussion, beautifully offset by empathic keyboard and supported by the drums, bass and reeds.

This is a musical which contains not only different emotional themes, but ones which are encapsulated across different countries and in different eras.   All this needs to be taken into account as the audience are swept from New York to Hawaii.    Pacing is really important for this to work well, and indeed there was a swift, not rushed pace, maintained throughout.   The energy and dazzle factor were larger than life and vibrancy was the order of the evening.  I really felt that this was a Broadway Musical rather than a West End Production, and completely fitting that it was.

Professional and slick choreography was obviously the result of some very hard work by all.   Dance played a large and vital part of the show and included some spectacular dance routines with a strong element of glamour.  The dances were well synchronized and often expertly performed.  I loved the fact that members of the chorus appeared to be a variety of shapes, sizes and ages – and each and everyone held their own with deserved acclaim.  

Plenty of colour, fur, feathers, glitz and sparkles!  Great costumes making loud and clear statements.   I have no idea how many costumes we saw in the one evening but I do know that I was mesmerized at the speed in which they happened, and the variety that they were.   They seemed particularly effective after the opening scene in which Stephen and Samantha were in simple bathrobes.   But not for long!  It would be hard to highlight any particular ones, but the opening number for Act Two with Conchita and the ladies in stunning black and gold was certainly one of my favourites.   Make-up was excellent – under and overstated as required and it was very refreshing to see that the chorus had hair kept well back from their faces which meant we could enjoy seeing full facial features.   An acknowledgement to the many props which were in keeping with the various eras and locations.

The technical side of this production really enhanced the overall visuality of this show.   Lighting was used effectively for both mood evocation and in the use of spots for some musical numbers, and the sound too was professionally maintained throughout.   Outstanding videography and animation really added an extra touch of wow factor, cleverly matching the moment on stage with the screen in perfect synchronization.

The young songwriter, who doubles as Tony in 1947, and we could quite believe that your musical creativity meant that your attention to your marriage was wandering You also played a convincing struggling songwriter by day, working by night at the Copacabana.  A really melodic and powerful singing voice and you shared with us the way in which your love for Lola progressed.  You touched us at the end though when you realized that Samantha was your real, present-day love

Stephen's wife, who doubles as Lola Lamar in 1947.   You swiftly turned from a rather tolerant, but exasperated, housewife to a young girl with misguided ambitions to become a Broadway star.    As the newly arrived Lola fresh off the train and with a stunning performance with the cast of Just Arrived, we immediately knew that despite your feistiness and self-assuredness you were really very naïve to this new world and were bound to make all sorts of mistakes.  Which of course is just what happened.  A believable performance with an excellent singing voice – you and Tony made a great pair.

The cheeky, warm-hearted cigarette girl at the Copacabana, always ready with the wise cracks and with a personality larger than life, like her heart.   You treated everyone the same, airs and graces or wealth were really not important to you at all.   Tremendous stage presence and comic timing backed up by wonderful body language and facial expressions.   You really came into your own with Copa Girl with the voice and dance skills to show Lola just how it should be done.   Great performance.

There was something rather vulnerable about you – the gruff but kind manager of the Copacabana.   It was clear when you first appeared that you were in a bad mood and in a gentle comedic way you maintained an air of finding the world a rather complex place.   Whilst you tried to keep an air of authority it was very obvious that you were not the one ruling the roost in the Copacabana!

The atmosphere on stage changed when you made your appearance.   You truly were the villain of the evening.   The elegant but dangerous gangster who would let nothing stop in his way – whatever/whoever you liked the look of, you were determined to own.   You concealed drugs in your ring and saw nothing wrong in treating your lady so badly, including slapping her, when you set eyes on someone you found more appealing.   Such a cruel and nasty man – very well portrayed and we didn’t like you one bit!

A truly Latin bombshell of the first order as Rico's long-suffering girlfriend.   You may have been ageing but the energy that you exuded was tremendous and your portrayal balanced well the mesmerizing skills and talents of your professional singing and dancing with the pathos of your situation at understanding that you were being replaced.   You loved your man but in the end knew that he was not a good one, and that it was time you protected anyone else likely to fall prey to him.

The New York cop (of obvious Irish descent) not to be reckoned with.   You looked out for Sam but didn’t want anyone trying to rescue Lola – you really believed that everything should be left up to the cops and no-one else.

More than just a waiter at the Copacabana, you took your job very seriously.    Your no-nonsense character didn’t take to Lola at first, but in the end you were charmed by her and ended up being harmed in trying to save her

You gave good supporting roles as a Tropicana performer and of course as Rico's enforcer and bodyguard where you gave menacing looks and seemed a force not to be reckoned with!

Another good supporting role as both the house choreographer and the rather snooty Headwaiter/host of the Copacabana.

Stirling team work as performers, dancers, singers and guests at the Copa and the Tropicana – not forgetting Auditionees, Pirates, Pirettes, Cops, Waiters and other assorted roles!

I have to confess that this was my first exposure to Copacabana, and what an exposure it was!  A really invigorating, creative and energetic musical performed by some seriously talented singers and dancers.   We could sense the fun and the strong teamwork behind the production.  

Thank you for your kind hospitality and for ensuring I had a copy beforehand.   I wish you further success with your next production.