Harmony Opens Again At Last
I've been writing about the musical, Harmony, by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman so much that I'm not going to bother linking to the many articles, just the first one here. The short version for new readers since then is that I saw it in its San Diego premiere 16 years ago at the La Jolla Playhouse and thought it was terrific. Wonderful in the first act, but some work needed in the second. But overall, the show was extremely good, with a rich score that wasn't like a collection of Barry Manilow hits, but that fit the show and its era. I've just been a sort of lone voice in trying to get that across.
Well, after those 16 years, the show finally had its second run, this time at the Tony-winning for regional theater, the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. After working on the show on and off, Harmony opened on Sunday.
I finally was able to track down the full review in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (the review is Premiere Content and therefore blocked) -- and it's quite the rave, with Wendell Brock calling it, among other praise, "A nearly flawless work of art." Here are excerpts --
Theater Review: Manilow’s ‘Harmony’ is a glorious work of art
With “Harmony: A New Musical” — which charts the rise and fall of an all-male ensemble in the dark days of Nazi Germany — Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman have created a virtual “Jersey Boys” for Jews.
I mean that as a high compliment.
A labor of love whose two-decade incubation period includes a short-lived run at California’s La Jolla Playhouse (1997) and a promised Broadway engagement that never transpired (2004), this biography of the nearly forgotten Comedian Harmonists is getting a glorious third chance at the Alliance Theatre.
Though I admit being slightly disconcerted that the structure and subject matter so mirrored the foolproof “Jersey Boys” (which won the 2006 Tony Award for best musical), my reservations were ultimately transformed by Manilow’s virtuosic score; Sussman’s briskly paced book and engaging lyrics; and JoAnn M. Hunter’s dynamite choreography. (For the record, “Harmony” — impeccably directed here by Tony Speciale — is not a jukebox musical, but a wholly original work inspired by the intricate harmonies and syncopated rhythms of Berlin’s vaudeville heyday of the ’20s and ’30s.)
…After some rousing opening numbers (“Overture,” “Harmony”), Mary’s luminous “And What Do You See?” and a couple of comedic bonbons (“Your Son Is Becoming a Singer!”; “How Can I Serve You, Madame?”), the double wedding scene is a thing of somber joy, for you can feel the menace of Hitler hovering in the shadows.
…In the end, “Harmony” is a nearly flawless work of art that almost manages to cloak the harrowing underside of history in a bubble of elegance, sophistication and wit. At the end of the night, the waltz fades away, but the stars never dim. Can this obscure story find success in the realm of commercial theater? I believe so.
Photo credit: Greg Mooney
There's one other review I've been able to find, from Atlanta Magazine. It's more of a feature piece about the opening, but within it, Richard L Eldredge writes --
"Moments into the show’s opening title number, the non-Fanilows in the audience (the ones who would have happily selected a root canal sans Novacane over ever hearing Looks Like We Made It again in their lifetimes) ceased squirming in their seats. The show’s music remains stylistically true to the play’s period and free from any 1970s-era excess reminiscent of Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again, with plenty of vocal gymnastics hard-wired into the score for the show’s leads Shayne Kennon, Douglas Williams, Will Taylor, Tony Yazbeck, Will Blum and Chris Dwan to have fun with. The score has much more in common with Manilow’s pair of obscure jazz-oriented albums, Two AM Paradise Café and Swing Street than his steady stream of AM radio hits from 40 years ago.
"In fact, the only moment in the show where something close to a trademark Manilow melody arrives is in the middle of Act I when Kennon performs the soaring Every Single Day. On Sunday night, Kennon and Leigh Ann Larkin had trouble resuming their post-song dialogue as the audience continued to demonstrate its enthusiastic approval for the number. Other numbers that struck a strong chord with the opening night audience: The bitingly satirical Come to the Fatherland! in Act 2 and Larkin and Hannah Corneau’s gorgeous melancholy duet Where You Go."
For many years, I faced a lot of skeptics thinking that I must be out of my mind saying how good Harmony was, and sorry I was that it hadn't gone further, because the second act issues were small and very fixable. So, at least at this juncture, I'm so pleasure for all the creators of the show that they've brought it back to life and are having quite a wonderful success with it.
You read it it here first. Almost literally...
It opens in Los Angeles in March.
Here's a video montage of the production, underscored with the title song.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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