Harry Frommeman (Matt Bailey) wants to put together a new kind of singing group that the people of Germany haven’t seen before. It’s 1927 and the young songwriter places an ad for singers who can sing in harmony. Ultimately, the motley crew of responders turns out to be a miraculously fine fit. Flourish-flinging tenor, singing waiter Ari “Lesh” Leshnikoff (Will Blum) performed with flair as dramatic as his vocal range. Tall, dark and classically handsome opera Baritone Bobby Biberti (Douglas Williams) boomed his way through a brilliant audition.
Songwriter and pianist Erwin “Chopin” Bootz (Will Taylor) jumped at the chance to show off his musical skills for people other than those who frequent the brothel where he works. Young physician Erich Collin (Chris Dwan) also answered the ad seeking the vivaciousness of music over the curatorship of death and disease – the profession his parents chose for him. And last but not least, Josef Roman Cykowski (Shayne Kennon), better known as our narrator Rabbi, would join the group in search of melodies beyond those of a canter.
Years go by and the group slowly refine their sound and solidify their friendship (“Harmony”). Social activist Ruth (Hannah Corneau) would frequent the alleys and bridge bellies which served as the group’s performance space in the early years of their existence. She would be the Jewish woman to catch Collins’ eye, and eventually his heart. Similarly, seamstress Mary Hegel (Leigh Ann Larkin) is an early fan of the group who would enter into a courtship with Rabbi.
After years of struggle, the sextet lands their big break, playing a prestigious country club. When they wardrobe is stolen on the eve of their big gig, Harry comes up with the brilliant improvisation of performing in their underwear (“How Can I Serve You Madame?”), a move that will simultaneously brand them as a comedy musical act and an overnight sensation.
The group’s first taste of worldwide fame and fortune progressively grows, as does the lengthening shadow of oppression from the Axis alliance. The once immune young singers are now divided between they loyalty to their Jewish heritage and their German heritage.
Harmony is a great show. The production design rises a step above the usual set piece flying in. The performers and flashing flats weave and unfold like living origami, with all its puzzle pieces falling neatly into place and in time with the music. The biggest production numbers where the most successful, effectively conveying the expanse of a story that took place on the world stage. Physical production piece were brilliantly exposed in “Come To The Fatherland”, a number where our young singers performed as human marionettes. Similarly “Hungarian Rhapsody #20” displays the exceptional vocal skill of every member of the Comedy Harmonists.
Harmony A New Musical is the culmination of several years of effort on the part of Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman. It is Manilow’s music and Sussman’s written source material and lyrics that have finally immortalized the story of the Comedian Harmonists in musical theatre form. More than just a historical composite of the lives of these young German men in the era of World War II, Harmony is an homage to the dilemma of the artist in times of war: diplomacy versus morality versus nationalism.
Harmony A New Musical is running now through April 13, 2014 at:
at Centre Theatre Group
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012