Imagine being bigger than The Beatles, The Monkees, The Jackson 5, The Osmonds, the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC or One Direction and being obliterated because of the Nazis. That is what happened to The Comedian Harmonists. Now thanks to Harmony: A New Musical, written by the legendary Barry Manilow and his longtime collaborator Bruce Sussman their story lives again.
The Comedian Harmonists were an internationally famous, all-male German close harmony ensemble that performed between 1928 and 1934 as one of the most successful musical groups in all of Europe before World War II. The group consisted of Harry (Zal Owen), Erich (Eric Peters), Rabbi (Danny Kornfeld), Bobby (Sean Bell), Chopin ( Blake Roman) and Lesh (Steven Telsey),. 3 were Jewish and Chopin had married a Jewish woman, Ruth (Ana Hoffman).
In their day The Comedian Harmonists made 21 films and 13 albums.
Rabbi (a remarkable Chip Zein), the group’s only survivor is tasked with telling and remembering the past and bringing back to life what was coldly erased.
The first act breezes along with Rabbi meeting his wife Mary (Sierra Boggess), The Comedian Harmonists forming and gradually becoming famous, and the coming of Nazism, culminating with a sold out performance at Carnegie Hall. They are offered a contract with NBC but, instead, return to Canada as their loyalty is to their country.
From the moment the show starts and the exquisite harmony begins, you can feel you are in for something special. I normally do not read my playbill until I review, but the direction was so powerful I had to know who directed. Not only does Warren Carlyle choreograph, but his direction is brimming with heart and soul. His choreography for “How Can I Serve You, Madame?” and “Come to the Fatherland” is ingenious. Then the second act begins, which is devastating, sadly predictable if you know history. Have your Kleenex ready.
The music by Barry Manilow and lyrics by Bruce Sussman is musical theatre nirvana. The orchestration by Doug Walter and vocal arrangements by Manilow and John O’Neil is sublime, complex and satisfying. This is like the scores that seem forgotten, that made me fall in love with musicals. I can see “This Is Our Time,” “Every Single Day,” and “Stars In The Night” being sung for years. Don’t go expecting typical Barry Manilow’s hits — this is something much
Then there is the cast. Ms. Boggess floats the soprano notes in “And What Do You See?” and “Where Do You Go” like a nightingale. Ms. Hoffman is a find, with her acting chops and superb belt. Each of the members of the The Comedian Harmonists is given a chance to shine. Roman is winsome as the matinee idol and Peters is a standout as the nobleman hiding his past. Telsey, Owen and Bell, each have their own winning moments as well. Kornfeld, since he is the younger version of Rabbi gets more than the rest and handles it superbly. Also Ana Hoffman as Josephine Baker does a knock out job in “We’re Goin’ Loco!” but it is Chip Zein that should be seeing some award love, for the multiple roles he embodies. His song “Threnody” is a tour de force, it’s a little long. And his turn as Marlene Dietrich shows this man has some legs!
Beowulf Boritt’s scenic design, Linda Cho & Ricky Lurie’s costumes, Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer’s lighting, Dan Moses Schreier’s sound design and batwin + robin productions inc., video are done to perfection. Bravo!
In a season that seems overbooked, I would gladly see Harmony again and again. My guess is it will be coming to Broadway soon.
Harmony: A New Musical: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, 36 Battery Pl until May 15th.