'Copacabana' dances into Henry tonight

Photo by Jason A. Smith
Bob Dotson (from left) rehearses a scene with "Copacabana" co-stars, Joshua Findley and Missy Shaner. The production will be presented tonight, through Sunday, at the Henry County Performing Arts Center.

Photo by Jason A. Smith Bob Dotson (from left) rehearses a scene with "Copacabana" co-stars, Joshua Findley and Missy Shaner. The production will be presented tonight, through Sunday, at the Henry County Performing Arts Center.

The Henry Players are putting the finishing touches on their latest production, which directors and cast members hope will put a spring in the steps of viewers.

The acting group will present "Copacabana" tonight, through Sunday, at the Henry County Performing Arts Center in McDonough. "Copacabana" is a musical based on a 1978 Barry Manilow hit by the same name.

The production tells the love story of Tony Forte, who works at the Copacabana club in New York City, and Lola, an aspiring showgirl who comes to the club, according to Co-Director Renee Yawn.

"Back in the day — it's set in 1945 — if you played the Copa, you arrived," said Yawn, 42. "You were really something. So Lola arrives in New York City with two suitcases and a dream, and from there she meets folks that work at the Copacabana. They take her in, and she feels like they're family."

Lola begins performing at the club, until she is whisked away to Havana, Cuba, by Rico Castelli, who owns a rival club there. "There's a big escape attempt and a rescue ... for her," Yawn said.

Yawn and fellow Co-Director Adriana Beckner, both Manilow fans, jumped at the chance to direct the production after learning about the musical.

"We looked at each other, and we said, ‘Oh my gosh, that would be so fabulous to direct,' and we'd love to bring it to the Henry Players with all the glitz and the glamour," said Yawn. "It's boy-meets-girl, boy-falls-in-love-with-girl, showgirls, intrigue, drama and all this beautiful music set behind it. We just got really excited about it."

Yawn added that although the Henry Players have addressed serious subjects in past productions, her goal with "Copacabana" is simply to entertain audiences.

"We're not delivering a message or anything," she said. "You really just need an escape every now and then."

Beckner, 33, has been with the Henry Players for three years, and is making her directorial debut with "Copacabana." She described the play as "a really happy show" which appeals to one of her passions.

"There's a lot of dancing, and I have a dance background, so that excited me," Beckner said.

Beckner admitted there were challenges in putting the show together in 12 weeks. One of those challenges was creating elaborate costumes for the 30-plus cast members.

"When we took it on, we had all our crew picked out — our lighting, our sound and all that," she said. "The one thing we did not do was costuming. My mother actually came in from Alabama and helped out with costumes, but Renee and I designed and put together 200-plus costumes for the show. That was probably the most time-consuming and most stressful part of the show. We had everything else worked out a year ago."

Joshua Findley, of McDonough, will portray Tony Forte in the production. Findley's past acting credits with the Henry Players include roles in "The Sound of Music" and "Grease."

He described the role of Forte as "one of the more challenging roles" he has ever performed, because of the production's volume of musical content. Still, he said he was drawn to the character because he could identify with it personally.

"Tony Forte is a struggling singer/songwriter, and that's pretty much my day job," said Findley.

He added that he learned a valuable lesson, through Tony, which he plans to put to use in his own career as a musician.

"It doesn't matter if you're huge or if it works out to the amount of success you want it to work out to," Findley said. "As long as it touches somebody and makes an impact, then you've done the best you could do. That's what I strive for."

Robert Oden, 59, will play Rico Castelli in "Copacabana." A 10-year veteran of local stage productions, he has appeared in "Driving Miss Daisy," "The Wizard of Oz," "Titanic," "Sweeney Todd," and "Mousetrap" with the Henry Players.

Oden said appearing as the Tropicana club owner represents the most difficult work he has ever done on stage.

"I've worked in other productions before, and they've all been challenging, but this is the most challenging because of the choreography, because of the music, because of how much of a demand it puts on you," said Oden. "Everyone has an intricate part, and without everyone's participation, the play doesn't work."

Sheilah Mullen, of McDonough, will take on the role of Conchita Alvarez, a Cuban star at the Tropicana, in her first production with the Henry Players. Mullen said she is "nervous" about performing, but has thoroughly enjoyed rehearsing with her castmates.

"I'm having the best time of my life," said Mullen. "It's really close and tight-knit, like a family. I'm looking forward to doing more if they'll have me."

"Copacabana" will be presented today through Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., each night, with a matinee showing Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance for adults, $10 for children and seniors, and $1 more at the door.

For ticket outlets and more details, visit www.henryplayers.com.