Before the Hi-Lo's sung a “Fascinatin' Rhythm," before the Beach Boys gave us “Good Vibrations,” and before NSYNC filled the airwaves with “Bye Bye Bye” a sextet melody-making boy band rose to world-wide fame in the1920s and 30s.
The Comedian Harmonists were a popular vocal band living in Germany. Unlike other boy bands, what made the Comedian Harmonists unique was their mixture of harmonies with physical humor.
The six group members' fairytale rise to fame and their tragic demise is depicted in the brand new musical Harmony created by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles
On-stage at the end of the performance on opening night, Manilow said to the audience, “What do you say when a dream comes true? This has been the deepest most emotional experience that I have ever been through.”
Creating musicals was Barry Manilow's original aspiration before songwriting, arranging and conducting music put him on an unexpected path of being one of the most popular pop stars ever.
Sussman, who is Manilow's longtime songwriting collaborator, found out about the Comedian Harmonists when he read about them in the New York Times in 1991, which prompted him to see a German documentary about them with English subtitles.
Sussman immediately shared his reaction to the documentary with Manilow and they went on a quest to turn the Comedian Harmonists' story into a musical.
Three of the vocal sextet members were Jewish. They were all living in Germany as Hitler rose to power. The Nazi's silenced the Comedian Harmonists by forbidding them to perform, forbidding their music to be played anymore and destroying their albums and their 12 films because of the Jewish members. This caused the group to break up and the members never saw each other again.
All of the music was created by Manilow. The book and lyrics were written by Sussman.
Manilow and Sussman are finding another layer of deep satisfaction with the running of Harmony because as two Jewish men they are getting to share a piece of history from their own culture.
The cast members who play the sextet have great chemistry. It's as if they are a real vocal group who have sung together for years. They bring so much energy to their song, dance, and stunt numbers.
This is a memorable and emotional musical indeed.
There were a couple of items that can be improved upon:
1) The group members should wear tattered clothes in an early scene of the performance when they were still struggling artists. They talked about being tired of wearing worn out clothes and shoes, while wearing what looks like new clothes and shoes. They were even teased by one of the group members girlfriend's for having missing buttons on their clothes. In those scenes I thought it would have been more fitting if they were rearing ragged clothes.
2) When the character Rabbi, played by band member Shayne Kennon sung “Every Single Day”, it lacked the emotional connection that it can easily have if he sings the song mostly facing Mary, while holding her instead of being mostly at a distance from her and facing the audience. It is here that he's making his pledge to protect her and stand with her and I wasn't connecting with it as an audience member the way I could have if it were sung intimately with Mary in his arms.
Those issues don't take away from the fact that Harmony is a definite “must see” winner.
When it was over and Manilow and Sussman finished speaking to the crowd on-stage, I immediately thought that someone should hit the rewind button so I could sit back down and watch it all over again.
Don't miss out:
- Ahmanson Theatre
- 135 N Grand Ave downtown Los Angeles
- Now through April 13
- Tickets: $20-$105
- For more information go to CenterTheatreGroup.org or call 213-972-4400