Barry Manilow’s musical “Harmony” in New York – culture

The fact that this is not a common place for a musical is already evident in the introduction. A police officer in uniform looks at those waiting and after showing the vaccination certificates, they have to undergo a security check at the airport.

This is because Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman’s “Harmony” music is on display at the Jewish Heritage Museum in New York, which is dedicated to Holocaust remembrance – a place that still needs special protection today. of this day, and on the other. next, almost the last place you would expect to see a musical by Barry Manilow, famous for his soft ballads with handkerchiefs. But to predict: It fits.

For 25 years, Manilow had dreamed of bringing his own music to Broadway. In “Harmony” he and his lyricist Sussman tell the story of Humorists, the German song group that was celebrated in Berlin in the late 1920s and early 1930s and began a world career that the Nazis ended because three of the six members were Jewish.

The piece premiered in San Diego in 1997, after which Manilow arrived in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Los Angeles, but not in New York. It may be that commercial theaters on Broadway thought it was too dangerous to combine joy, song, dance, and the Nazis. It could not have been because of the musical itself, because it had tremendous success.

The so-called “jukebox musicians” are popular on Broadway, in which the life story of a star is told in a usually funny plot, which serves as an excuse to sing all their hits. Currently you can watch music for Tina Turner or Michael Jackson in this category.

They could have stayed in America – and decided against it

“Harmony” works differently, there is no original Harmony Comedy song to listen to. The band’s story is told through Manilow’s music and Sussman lyrics. Unlike previous versions of the musical, this time on stage is a storyteller, the band’s last survivor, who recalls the wonderful days. Maybe it’s this simple trick the part needed to really work. Broadway veteran Chip Zien is brilliant in the role.

The fact that Manilow arrived in New York, but not on Broadway, should be imagined as a stroke of luck. The location of the performance gives the piece another dimension, a depth it may not be able to reach elsewhere. In any case, it gives you chills to hear a man in a Nazi uniform barking on stage in this very building.

While jukebox musicians are often terribly boring because they are essentially overpriced concerts by a group of covers, “Harmony” has a well-told story. The starting point is a moment in Carnegie Hall, New York, where the band members reached the peak of their careers when they performed in 1933 and received an offer from the NBC network to stay in the US for a long-term series. concerts. To stay or go, to return to Germany? Viewers know what the right decision would be.

Basically, the show adheres to the current history of Comedy Harmonists. Some things have been condensed, some have been exaggerated, some have been added. For example, the band’s founder Harry Frommermann actually placed an ad in the newspaper looking for singers. In the musical, five men report that they are miraculously created for each other and that they become best friends. Indeed, Frommermann selected only one of the 70 applicants, and it took some time for the group to finally find their cast.

The way the band finds itself in this musical, as a coincidence, is somewhat reminiscent of Erik Fosnes Hansen’s beautiful novel “Coral at the End of the Voyage”, written by the shipwreck of titanic tha. Here, too, it seems as if the musicians who need to unite to fight together for their destiny are coming together. And in both the novel and the musical it is clear from the beginning that the end will not be good.

So the piece fades back in New York. Carnegie Hall. stay or go Weren’t these ridiculous Nazi figures who would disappear just as quickly as all the other ridiculous figures who populated the political scene at the time? And will you really make it to America? Wasn’t it safer to build on the home base?

All understandable questions, but as a spectator you sit in the hall like in a horror movie in which you want to say to the protagonists: “Go. not through this door! “, because you know what horror is hidden behind it. A classic trick that always works.

The group decides to return to Germany and here begins the dark part.

Jewish singers flee, non-Jews remain. They never see each other again

It goes without saying that the cast in a musical played in New York can sing. In this case, yes, because not only do the six men in the group (Sean Bell, Danny Kornfeld, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman, Steven Telsey) form a fantastic ensemble, but the female lead roles are also excellent, especially. Sierra Boggess, whose role as the first girlfriend and later the narrator’s wife is quite superficial, but whose voice sometimes fills the theater in such a way that she fears that the lights of attention will burst.

The female roles have also been played brilliantly.

(Photo: Julieta Cervantes / Yidish Folksbiene National Theater)

In the second part of the show what should happen happens. It was initially said that the group should no longer play songs by Jewish composers. Then they say they should remove everything Jewish from the concerts. With special permission, the Comedy Harmonists were allowed to sing in their original lineup for a while, in part because the Nazis thought they were good ambassadors for Germany abroad.

The only part of the performance that seems too far away is when narrator Chip Ziem, in his role as a former member of the ensemble Roman Cycowski, complains in a long song that he was on the same train with Adolf Hitler in 1935 and missed the opportunity to meet him to shoot.

Aside from the fact that musicians generally did not carry firearms on trains or anywhere else at the time, perhaps a little more knowledge of the consequences has leaked into history at this point. Despite the incomprehensible horror that followed, it seems that people should feel guilty that they did not shoot Hitler in 1935 going too far. That would have been morally correct in retrospect is another matter.

Meeting Hitler is invented, in the musical it probably raises the question of whether or not everyone Hitler should have prevented it, by any means. This question is too complex to be addressed shortly before the end of a musical.

In real life, Jewish singers first fled to Austria in 1935. Non-Jewish members stayed in Germany. Both groups formed new groups. In the musical, Comedy Harmonists have one last performance together, during which it is said that they already knew they would never see each other again. The light on each of the singers gradually fades as the narrator reports when each of them died.

All six musicians survived World War II, and yet this sequence of dead light is deeply touching, both because it represents the way Jewish art first disappeared from Germany and because it also represents the genocide that followed. It was clear in these last minutes of the show that many people in the New York auditorium shed at least one tear from under their masks. When did a musician dare to send the audience home with such emotions?

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