Nowadays in the eighties, the Copacabana is a disco, but there's someone who sits there at the bar nursing a drink who has been there since the forties, and she is Lola Lamar (Annette O'Toole). She has her own reasons for sitting alone every night, because sometimes she can gaze at the dancers and see a ghostly figure at the piano, the figure of Tony Starr (Barry Manilow), who was the great love of her life until... Well, let's go back in time to the place they met at a radio quiz show for singers, in which they competed against one another for the grand prize.
The Barry Manilow song Copacabana was one of those story songs, like for example Excerpt from a Teenage Opera by Keith West or Camouflage by Stan Ridgeway, where no matter your opinion of its quality you simply had to listen to it all the way through once it had started, such was the compulsive nature of hearing the way its tuneful yarn played out. With Manilow at the height of his powers during the eighties, U.S. entertainment mogul Dick Clark's production company decided to bring one of his best known songs to the small screen.
A Christmas extravaganza was what they had in mind, but the reaction outside of the legions of "Fanilows", the army of ladies of a certain age who made up Barry's following, was not so great. In fact the general view was that this TV movie was prime cheese from beginning to end, although not many complained that as far as adapting the story of the song went, they didn't even stick to the plot that well, softening what was a rather hard-edged and unsentimental yarn in the original and making it look like a pilot for a musical television series. That was apart from the way it ended, which scuppered any chance of a sequel.
Bazza gets to croon a few tunes, all of which end with him getting louder and louder until he throws his arms wide and practically yells the last line, but for the most part it was the narrative and his dubious thespian endeavours which concerned him here (weirdly the title song gets short shrift with a couple of verses). He plays a nice guy everyman who is seeking an outlet for his songs, and after meeting Lola on that quiz he falls for her and persuades the singer to team up with him for a nightclub act; though she's reluctant at first, leaving behind her taxi dancing career is not something she feels too bereft about. But there are complications even as they get their break at the, yes, Copacabana club, when another man takes an interest in Lola.
He is gangster Rico (Joseph Bologna), and he has a job for her in Havana which sounds too good to be true, which it is. Tony goes in the huff with her so her only option is to take Rico up on his offer, and there's more of a thriller aspect to what comes after, although it was getting further and further away from the simplicity of the source song. They had to fill a two hour timeslot (with ads) after all, so you also got business with Golden Girl Estelle Getty as Tony's mother who is apparently present to make him look like an even nicer guy when he treats her so well, and Tony's estranged father (James T. Callahan) re-enters his life to boot for more complications that don't amount to much. The multi-talented O'Toole got to sing and dance, and in truth seemed more at home acting than her co-star, leaving you with a curio from a time when the belief that every singer had an star acting/singing vehicle in them was prevalent, but starting to die out other than the odd exception (and little wonder).