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April 01, 1988 - Image 82

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-04-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Manchester Expands
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D

irect, responsive, can-
did and frank — Me-
lissa Manchester is a
delightfully open, honest in-
terview. So why is she giving
me this song and dance?
"Because," says the smiling
singer/composer whose work
(Don't Cry Out Loud) has
cried out for expanded expres-
sion, "I've always wanted to
do musical theater."
And Song and Dance is her
chance. Manchester stars as
lovesick, lovelorn Emma, the
naif New York/English girl
with a heart of gold and-
pocketful of misery in the in-
novative Broadway musical.
Song and Dance, another
hit Andrew Lloyd Webber

(Cats, Starlight Express)

musical, captured a Tony
Award for Bernadette Peters
who starred in it on Broad-
way. Manchester hopes to
snare for herself another
direction for her career.
Not that the past hasn't pro-
ved prosperous. With a Gram-
my Award and gold records

(Come in From the Rain, Mid-
night Blue, Whenever I Call
You Friend) tucked in her

portfolio, Manchester seems
to continuously take stock of
her career. Let the blue chips
fall where they may, she
seems to say; and they have
landed her spots on television

(Fame, The Tonight Show,

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Academy Awards and Tony
Awards telecasts) and now a
national theatrical tour.
Not bad for a young Jewish
woman who started out in
musical life as a Harlette,
singing back-up to Bette
Midler.
She's not playing back-up
anymore; Manchester is the
star of the first act of Song
and Dance — indeed, she is
the only one on stage, playing
off unseen characters. She
sings 21 numbers in this
unusual show, which features
the Dance part — courtesy of
co-star Christopher d'Am-
boise — during the second act.
Daunted by the challenge?
Manchester smiles the smile
of a woman who slings
challenges over her shoulder
and totes them home as pets.
She loves the challenge of the
stage at this stage of her life.
The role was not so much
an unexpected song in her life
as a seductive showstopper.
"On a fantasy level," says the
New Yorker, "it's like a dream
of going from sitting in the
row for a show and then going
on stage."

But Song and Dance was
not her first opportunity in
theater. "I've frequently been
offered to do Funny Girl by
(composer) Jules Styne," she
says, smiling. "But those
shoes," originally measured
out for Barbra Streisand, "are
just too historic to fill."
Manchester has filled the
bill of singer often enough in
the past to want a new
challenge. "This comes at the
perfect time in my life," she
says. "I just had a baby and
felt that I've had enough of
being myself on stage. I
wanted to take the plunge in-
to acting."
The plunge is into a produc-
tion of prominently pooled
talent: The show is directed
by Tony Award-winning
Richard Maltby, choreograph-
ed by Peter Martins of the
New York City Ballet and
designed by Robin Wagner
(sets), Willa Kim (costumes)
and Jules Fisher (lighting),
all Tony recipients.
It is a toney show; panache
without pretense. The score
soars; the dancing delights.
And it all focuses on
everywoman Emma, whose
romances tend to run out of
fuel just before she gets her
fill of affection.
"This show really is about
survival," says Manchester.
"And I know about that."
Surviving and succeeding
in show business are as rare
as roping in a rainbow. Pots of
gold in the business can pro-
ve elusive, with promised
payoffs evaporating in thin
air.
But Manchester is a Jewish
leprechaun of sorts, finding
her magic in music. A good,
solid background in the arts
— including a stint at
Juilliard — helped her along
the way.
And let's not forget the im-
pact of patient parents, Man-
chester says. Her father was
a bassoonist with the Metro-
politan Opera Company; her
mother a fashion designer.
"Being an artist is so
natural for me," she says
naturally. "There were
always cultural things around
me as I was growing up. It
was important to my parents
that they expose my sister
and me to such things."
Indeed, her parens instilled
in her a sense of confidence,
which persists today. "They
always told me that life was
special, that you can do
whatever you want to do. It
was a magnificent message."
It is a message Manchester
intends to convey to her son,
Nathan, as he gets older.

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