I was lucky enough to attend a performance of Manilow (yes, as in Barry) and Sussman’s new musical Harmony, running through April 13th at The Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Why should you see it? It’s sad. It’s funny. It’s emotionally charged. And the music stays with you long after you leave the theater.
I will admit that I knew nothing about the story going into it, though my boyfriend took a guess before I left that turned out to be right on the nose (turns out he even has recordings of the group profiled). The story follows the remarkable story of the rise of The Comedian Harmonists. Think “boy band,” but in Germany in 1927. In fact, they were a world-wide sensation. They sold millions of records and starred in dozens of films. They were on their way to becoming legends by 1933.
Why haven’t you heard of them? Three of the members were Jewish, and though they had powerful fans, ultimately they weren’t powerful enough to protect them from the laws being enforced. Their records were banned from play or sale. They were unable to perform in Germany, and not allowed to travel outside of the country.
That’s the interesting thing about this show. You know from the moment the curtain rises where you are in history. Even the witty and fun songs have a certain amount of gravity to them because of that awareness. That’s not to say that there aren’t truly hilarious moments – there are (“Your Son Is Becoming a Singer,” “Come to the Fatherland,” and “Lost in the Shadows” come immediately to mind). But you know what is coming, and I found it very difficult not to yell out warnings by the end of the first act. Fear not, I refrained.
The entire cast is stellar. The music is stirring with flavor from the period, and the lyrics are powerful. Despite my normally stoic approach to drama, I’ll admit that I was shedding tears by the time we hit “Where You Go” (performed by the two wives facing the same situation, but coming at it from very different angles), and throughout the haunting “I did nothing” echoes in “Threnody” on the night train. I wasn’t alone judging by the sniffling I heard at the start of the curtain call.
My recommendation is to go. Go to laugh. Go to learn their story of camaraderie, perseverance and extraordinary talent. And if you shed a tear or two, that’s okay, too.
To get a taste of the show and hear from Sussman and Manilow, check out this YouTube clip provided by The Ahmanson Theatre.