ALL EYES ON 'HARMONY' IN ATLANTA Richard Jay-Alexander Talks to Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman on the Eve of Opening Night
Any worthy partnership, in order to succeed, must be able to "endure." Whether it's a friendship, lovers, business associates or, in an even more complicated equation, authors of a musical. Especially a new musical. Many famous partnerships with plenty of ups & downs would include Rodgers & Hart, Rodgers & Hammerstein, George & Ira Gershwin, Boublil & Schonberg, Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice and too many others to mention. But what unifies all those that endured the turbulence, is their passion and desire to tell a story. And HARMONY, written by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman fits that description to a T.
They were the first sensational boy band: six talented young men who came together in 1920s Germany and took the world by storm with their signature blend of sophisticated close harmonies and uproarious stage antics. The Comedian Harmonists sold millions of records, starred in a dozen films and packed the houses of the most prestigious concert halls around the globe until the world they knew forever changed. Some of them were Jewish, some were not.
Tonight, as the curtain rises at the (770 seat) ALLIANCE THEATRE, in Atlanta, this will be the center of the universe for Barry and Bruce. This musical is, and has been, their baby for a long time, and this is the moment that they've both been waiting for.
In the cast are Shayne Kennon as the narrator Rabbi, and as The Comedian Harmonists are: Tony Yazbeck as Harry; Douglas Williams as Bobby; Chris Dwan as Erich; Will Taylor as Chopin; Will Blum as Lesh; Leigh Ann Larkin as Mary; and Hannah Corneau as Ruth.
I reached out to Barry and Bruce the other day, because I wanted to find out how they were feeling about things and about the show...and just to wish them 'good luck'. I think I could actually "hear" their collective hearts beating, as I asked questions and they would sometimes finish each other's sentences.
Both Manilow and Sussman have been on the scene during the rehearsal process and they have much praise for Director Tony Speciale, who has been known for new thinking and turning material on its ear. He also seems a 'perfect fit' as he directed another tale of injustice and persecution when he concieved and directed UNNATURAL ACTS: HARVARD'S SECRET COURT OF 1920, which was another story of persecution - in that case, homosexual.
But, Barry and Bruce bring gravitas to this material and for HARMONY have re-worked or re-written here to accommodate the specifics of the cast, for their particular skills and story-telling abilities. Barry has also contributed new music and they are both very proud of the musicalization of a scene that takes place on a train.
HARMONY offers plenty of laughs and the preview audiences comply, but they also pay homage and sit in total silence for the heartbreak of the story at the core of this powerful musical.
In addition, both men were quick to add that, in a time where standing ovations no longer seem to mean so much, that when they witness the entire Atlanta audience getting up and cheering, even before the final curtain has hit the floor, that "chills" happen to each of them and the tears of joy flow freely. They have been "pinching" themselves, but keep both feet on the ground at all times. It was a beautiful thing to hear.
The calls have already started coming in from potential Broadway producers, but, for right now, they are keeping focus. It would seem that any smart producer would be booking their flights now, to see it in Atlanta, before it takes a hiatus and continues on to the Ahmanson, in Los Angeles. It's not everyday that Barry Manilow writes a score for a musical. Barry has also been performing one of the musical's anthems, 'Every Single Day' in his concerts for quite some time. He sets up the story, and then performs the song to cheers from the audience. That song could be described as the perfect 'antithesis' of a character's regrets in the song, 'The Road You Didn't Take' from Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's FOLLIES.
The authors are enormously proud of this piece and when they speak, it shows through in every word, reminding me of the recent PBS special, BROADWAY MUSICALS: A JEWISH LEGACY, which pretty much proved that if there were no Jews, there would be no Broadway. And, in this case, both authors show the pride and love of both their upbringing and their love of Broadway.
I asked them, "What are you gonna wear on Sunday Night?" (I couldn't help myself).
Barry answered, "Oh, I don't know ... Maybe a dress cut down to there!" How can you not love this man?
I finally asked, "Is there anything you want to tell the BroadwayWorld.com readers, if they are planning to come see the show?" And they BOTH answered (in perfect harmony), "BRING KLEENEX!"
BREAK LEGS, BOYS! What a great way to start (the Jewish) New Year!
Drama Desk Award nominee Tony Speciale (Classic Stage Company: Unnatural Acts, A Midsummer Night's Dream) directs HARMONY and is supported by a talented creative team including Set & Costume Designer Tobin Ost (Jekyll & Hyde Revival, Newsies The Musical), Projection Designer Darrel Maloney (American Idiot), LX Designer Jeff Croiter (Jekyll & Hyde Revival, The Anarchist), winner of the 2012 Tony Award for Best Lighting Design of a Play for his work on Peter and the Starcatcher, Choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever), Music Director Patrick Vaccariello (Annie Revival, Come Fly Away), Assistant Music Director John O'Neill, and Sound Designer John Shivers, winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Sound Design of a Musical for his work on the Tony Award winning musical Kinky Boots.
The ensemble for HARMONY consists of eleven actors who must play over thirty roles including historical figures like Marlene Dietrich, Albert Einstein, and Richard Strauss - all of whom the Comedian Harmonists really knew. Members of the ensemble include Dave Schoonover, Patrick O'Neill, Greg Kamp, Charles Osborne, Bryan Thomas Hunt, Chad Lindsey, Brandon O'Dell, Lauren Elaine Taylor, Kim Sava, Lindsay Moore, and Liberty Cogen.
Tickets start at $30 and are available at The Woodruff Arts Center Box Office in person or by calling 404-733-5000. Tickets are also available online at www.alliancetheatre.org/harmony.