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Review Roundup: HARMONY Opens at National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene

Harmony was written by the legendary Barry Manilow and his longtime collaborator Bruce Sussman and is directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Warren Carlyle.

Harmony: A New Musical

Harmony: A New Musical, starring musical theatre icons Chip Zien (Into the Woods, Caroline, Or Change) and Sierra Boggess (The Little Mermaid, The Phantom of the Opera), opens tonight at National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Read the reviews!

Presented by National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF) for only four more weeks, Harmony was written by the legendary Barry Manilow and his longtime collaborator Bruce Sussman and is directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Warren Carlyle.

Harmony tells the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, an ensemble of six talented young men in 1920s Germany who took the world by storm with their signature blend of sophisticated close harmonies and uproarious stage antics, until their inclusion of Jewish singers put them on a collision course with history.

Fresh from the stellar success of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, which won multiple honors including a 2019 Drama Desk Award, NYTF presents Harmony in English. Previews begin this Wednesday, and the production opens on April 13 and runs through May 8, 2022, in the newly renovated Edmond J. Safra Hall theatre at the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Place in Battery Park City, Manhattan.

Playing the six Comedian Harmonists are Sean Bell (National Tour: A Bronx Tale: The Musical), Danny Kornfeld (National Tour: Rent), Zal Owen (Broadway: The Band's Visit), Eric Peters (National Tour: Motown: The Musical), Blake Roman (Regional: Newsies), and Steven Telsey (National Tour: The Book of Mormon). Jessie Davidson (Regional: The Mystery of Edwin Drood) plays Ruth, with Ana Hoffman (National Tour: Dreamgirls) set to portray Josephine Baker - a major celebrity whom the Harmonists encountered on their way to the top. Kenny Morris (Broadway: Hairspray) will be the standby for Zien's Rabbi.

The ensemble includes Elise Frances Daniells, Zak Edwards, Abby Goldfarb, Eddie Grey, Shayne Kennon, Kolby Kindle, Benjamin H. Moore, Matthew Mucha, Tori Palin, Barrett Riggins, Kayleen Seidl, Andrew O'Shanick, Dan Teixeira, Nancy Ticotin, and Kate Wesler.

Johnny Oleksinski, The New York Post: The book, by Manilow's longtime collaborator Sussman, also tends to jump to extremes. A large portion of the first act is spent introducing us to the six Comedian Harmonists in a catchy but long opening number. They then have a blink-and-you-miss-it sequence of being unknowns and - hey presto! - are suddenly world-famous. The Borscht Belt jokes throughout are fun, but there are a few too many. Two roles that could use more meat are the wives, played by Sierra Boggess and Jessie Davidson. Conflicted about their husbands' roles in Germany's moral downfall, they're potentially fascinating. Yet, however gorgeous their music is, the parts come off as slight. As does the design. Beowulf Boritt's set of TV screens and minimal furniture surely is hamstrung by a downtown budget. It would be nice to see something more transportive and evocative. So "Harmony"'s long journey continues. But with Manilow's fine music, and this extraordinary company of actors, it's worth the extra mileage.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, The New York Times: Manilow, Sussman and Carlyle mostly succeed in balancing the shifting moods, which is no easy feat because they must shuffle broad humor and, well, Nazis. The "comedian" in the band's name was to be taken literally, for example, and the singers were as famous for their stage antics and novelty songs as for their tight singing. The downside is that there is a thin line between speedy and rushed, and the men are drawn in brushstrokes. A pair of love interests, Mary (Sierra Boggess) and Ruth (Jessie Davidson), are even less than that - one is loving, the other feisty, and that's pretty much it.

Raven Snook, Time Out New York: Harmony is a memory musical about a time we must never forget. A passion project by pop hitmaker Barry Manilow and his longtime collaborator Bruce Sussman, this show has been decades in the making, from its 1997 premiere at California's La Jolla Playhouse to its current New York iteration, mounted by National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Its story-which juxtaposes the rise of the Third Reich with the decline of a real-life German singing sextet called the Comedian Harmonists-is certainly worth telling. But although Harmony is engaging and heartfelt, it peters off into historical hokum.

David Finkle, New York Stage Review: Carlyle and cast take care that the wide range of emotions send home the musical's past and current message. Most prominent among them are Zien (giving his most remarkable performance in a long career); Feldman as the fervent Young Rabbi; Boggess as the Young Rabbi's wise wife; Davidson as the defiant Nazi hater; Roman as a Gentile husband enamored of his Jewish wife; and Owen as the committed Comedian Harmonists creator. A large and busy supporting cast further indicates the producers' determination to get Harmony to the much-bigger time where it also belongs.

Juan A. Ramirez, Theatrely: Dips into melodrama aside, the Comedian Harmonists' story is one that, as one of them points out from the jump, is barely known today. Manilow and Sussman's work to keep their legacies alive is admirable, and what their musical lacks in out-of-the-boxness, it more than makes up through the classic art of telling an unsung story well. In this case, it's sung gorgeously, and six times over.

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: What's most extraordinary about "Harmony," though, is how little is in need of embellishment. Manilow and his long-time collaborator, the lyricist/librettist Bruce Sussman, with whom he's written hundreds of songs, including "Copacabana (At The Copa)," were smart to see the makings of a musical in this riveting true story. They produced the first version of "Harmony" in 1997 at the La Jolla Playhouse, and a later version at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles in 2014. I don't know why it's taken 25 years for "Harmony" to make it to New York. All I can say is I'm glad I've gotten to see it, and I'd happily see it again.

Johnny Oleksinski, The New York Post: Manilow's musical, which opened Wednesday night off-Broadway (the composer tested positive for COVID and sadly couldn't attend), has a lot going for it. The drama is about a little-known, fascinating piece of World War II history that will have audiences racing to Google at intermission. Manilow's score, with lyrics by Bruce Sussman, is pretty and occasionally touching. And all of the singers are sensational. Still, there is some discord.

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