When I made my journey into Christchurch for Highcliffe Charity Players performance of Copacabana, I expected colour, dancing and, of course, feathers! What I didn’t expect was a really interesting storyline which dealt with some very adult themes. The musical begins with Stephen, an aspiring song writer desperate to make his mark with his writing whilst neglecting his new wife, Samantha. His imagination creates Lola, a plucky, optimistic wannabe actress and Tony, a talented, romantic worker at the Copacabana, THE nightclub in New York. They both encounter some interesting characters as they navigate young love, ambitious career aspirations and a dangerous villain.
Lead by Stuart Darling as Musical Director, the band were fabulous throughout. As can be quite common at The Regent Centre, there were points during the show where the sound of the band was much louder than those on stage. This primarily happened during chorus numbers and when the band was marking spoken script on stage. Whilst this did not take away from the quality of the show, it did mean that the audience missed a number words from songs, and speaking moments.
One would expect from a show about nightclubs and dancing girls that there would be amazing costumes, and Highcliffe did not disappoint here. The Copa girls and boys were beautifully dressed in some fabulously glittery numbers which lit up the stage, and there were other gorgeous costumes worn by other cast members too. Kate Cheetham and Emma Peckham have done brilliantly to source these costumes. Speaking of the Copa dancers, each of them should be extremely proud of themselves as they all brought fantastic energy to the stage, especially during the dance numbers.
As a rule, the technical aspects of the show appeared to run pretty smoothly, although there was the odd usual first night misses on occasion. The set was beautiful, but it did look cumbersome. It did appear that there were some issues with the set during the performance but this did not stop the show in any way. A nod to the crew here with ensuring that everything continued to run as smoothly as possible.
What really stood out in this show was the absolute and complete talent of all of the leading cast. Every single one of them commanded the stage, and the vocals from each and every one of the principles were perfect throughout. The professionalism seen was second to none.
In the role of Lola/Samantha, Shannon Cook was stunning. She balanced the pluck and optimism of Lola with her innocence and vulnerability beautifully. Lola was incredibly likeable and the audience were rooting for her the whole time. There were some quite dark themes involving Lola, and Shannon gave the right amount of fear, subtlety and hope throughout. It was a really great performance. Opposite Shannon was James Dixon-Box in the role of Tony/Stephen. James blew the audience away with his excellent vocals and warm, engaging portrayal of Tony. Again, a fantastic performance throughout. It has to be said that Shannon and James had great chemistry and there were genuinely mesmerising moments in the scenes between the two of them on stage.
Georgina Smith was excellent as the lively and encouraging mother figure, Gladys. She had excellent charisma and was a real scene stealer. I loved the patter between her and Pete Whittaker, in the role of the grumpy, no BS club owner Sam. Again, a great pairing.
One of the stand out performances of the evening was Jade Morrell in the spicy role of the Latina, Conchita. She brought so much energy to the stage and balanced the inner positively and humour of the character with a less glamourous and darker side to her relationship with Rico. I was also very impressed with her accent! Speaking of Rico, Alex Cook was an excellent villain. Completely unlikable, and very scary at times. I think the audience made their thoughts and feelings very clear in the bows!
Overall, this is a brilliant show and Highcliffe should be extremely proud of their cast and crew for pulling this together. The run will continue every evening until Saturday, when there will also be a matinee.