Reasons to see 'Harmony' on Broadway
This new musical, co-created by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, presents a little-known historical story with top-notch songs, staging, and acting talent.
It only took 25 years, but finally, everything aligned in harmony to bring Harmony to Broadway. Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman's musical arrived at (where else?) the Barrymore Theatre after years of development, multiple false starts elsewhere in the U.S., and finally, an Off-Broadway debut at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in spring 2022 that finally materialized into a successful transfer.
Having seen (and loved) the Off-Broadway run, I'm happy to report that Harmony hasn't lost its luster in the move. In fact, the bigger venue can better accommodate director/choreographer Warren Carlyle's energetic staging; the more lived-in performances of the cast, most of whom return from off Broadway; and the story of the Comedian Harmonists, whose rise to fame in 1920s Germany crashed headfirst into the rise of Nazism.
Harmony is at one a sweeping story of the group's response to — and defiance against — an increasingly uncertain world, and an intimate story about the bond and art created among six friends, which the one surviving member won't let disappear into history. It's a story that's worth us all collectively witnessing and remembering.
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The musical brings generations of Broadway together in harmony.
Harmony is at once old and new: The musical premiered in 1997, but it's completely new to Broadway. Not to mention that it tells the story of events from the 1920s and '30s. So the history of Harmony technically spans a century, so it's only fitting that the people bringing it to life represent multiple generations, too.
Manilow and Sussman have been on the Broadway circuit since the '70s, as has Chip Zien, who made his Broadway debut in 1974. Now, he plays an older version of the Harmonist Rabbi alongside six breakout actors as the younger Harmonists (the others are Erich, Chopin, Harry, Lesh, and Bobby), ushering in the next generation of talent.
And neatly in the middle is the currently buzzy Carlyle, who began his Broadway career 20 years ago. All come together to make Harmony feel truly timeless.
Barry Manilow's score soars.
You won't hear any of Manilow's pop hits in Harmony — no Copacabana or Mandy. But you get something even better instead: the experience of completely new tunes from the musician, along with lyricist Bruce Sussman, that are just as indelible.
Multiple songs evoke old-school musical comedy, such as the Kander and Ebb-esque "Come to the Fatherland!," a bright yet sharp (and brilliantly staged) satire of Nazi Germany. The earlier "How Can I Serve You, Madam?", in which the Harmonists first find their comic footing, sports sly wordplay complemented by masterful physical comedy.
Manilow and Sussman also know how to write a rousing ballad, and they excel three times over in Harmony. "Every Single Day" is a defiant declaration of unwavering love. The duet "Where You Go" turns that formula on its head, contrasting a strengthening romance with a crumbling one. And then there's "Threnody," Chip Zien's 11 o'clock number, with decades' worth of pain, regret, loneliness, and sorrow compressed into four short minutes. I don't think there was a dry eye in my audience after Zien poured it all out. Mine sure weren't.
"You're the one with the ideas."
A sneering Nazi throws this line at Harry after getting wind of the group's "Come to the Fatherland!" performance, which Harry conceived. The subtext that soon becomes explicit, of course, is that he had best squash any future "ideas" of resistance, or his Harmonists will all become quick targets.
That line sticks with me. It's a threat, but from the threatened. It's a twisted yet profound acknowledgment of creative genius and the power of an "idea," in the right hands, to give way to a flesh-and-blood movement and real change. Julie Benko's character, the outspoken revolutionary Ruth, exemplifies this theme, too. The crux of Harmony may be Rabbi's guilt at having done nothing in a time of crisis, but this moment, and characters like Harry and Ruth, remind us there's another way.
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Harmony is a fresh, urgent story with a classic, old-fashioned appeal. Whether you're a fan of Barry Manilow, of little-known history, or of physical comedy created and performed by a top-notch team, you'll find that Harmony hits all those notes.
Get Harmony tickets now.
Photo credit: Blake Roman, Steven Telsey, Zal Owen, Danny Kornfeld, Eric Peters, and Sean Bell in Harmony on Broadway. (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)
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