There are more ways to die than just death. Sometimes just being forced to stop your creations is as bad as dying.
Barry Manilow has teamed up with Bruce Sussman to create an astounding new musical Harmony now being featured at the Ahmanson Theatre. Winning back the rights from the producer who failed to bring it to stage in 2003, Manilow and Sussman now present their amazing story of the lives of the Comedian Harmonists, a specialty singing group popular in Germany until the Nazis rose to power in the 1920s and '30s. Combined of three Jews and three Gentiles, the popular group was the equal of the Beatles in pre-war Germany.
The music was both upbeat and, at times, sad. My favorite songs were the comedic "How Can I Serve You, Madame?" where the group made their premiere opening and another comedic song "Come To The Fatherland!" I think the best, however, was when Mary and Ruth sing "Where You Go" to their respective husbands as the coming war forces crucial decisions for the group.
The group starts when Harry Frommerman (Matt Bailey) decides to start a group and finds Josef Roman Cykowski (Shayne Kennon) a rabbi who has run from the anti- Semitism in Poland. The group grows to six members as they include Ari "Lesh" Leshnikoff (Will Blum), Erwin "Chopin" Bootz (Will Taylor) a doctor who really wants to be a singer, Enrich Collin (Chris Dwan), and former waiter Bobby Biberti (Douglas Williams.) They start their act on the alleys and streets of Germany before being offered a night club act introducing Marlene Dietrich (Lauren Elaine Taylor.) Despite the pressures of the Nazi's, two of the men - "Rabbi" and "Chopin" marry women - Mary Hegel (Leigh Ann Larkin) and Ruth Stern (Hannah Corneau)- in an authentic Jewish wedding ceremony.
The company broke up when the Nazi's forbade them doing songs composed by Jews, lyrics by Jews, arranged by Jews or published by Jews. Says Manilow "the only song they had left was "I Have A Cactus on My Windowsill."
According to Sussman, "This group represented the diversity that the German nation at this point was saying was toxic. Not only were there Jews and Gentiles in the group, there was a Bulgarian, an Italian, a Pole. They were from all strata of class." He added," They were the embodiment of harmony --diverse elements brought together in a unified synthesis."
Lesh is the funniest of the group, but there is comedy mixed with pathos throughout the story.
The singing and acting is unparalleled. The full orchestra added immensely to the enjoyment.
Stars included Matt Bailey, Will Blum, Kevin Brown, Liberty Cogen, Hannah Corneau, Chris Dwan, Kara Haller, Bryan Thomas Hunt, Greg Kamp, Shayne Kennon, Leigh Ann Larkin, Chad Lindsey, Lindsay Moore, Brandon O'Dell, Patrick O'Neill, Charles Osborne, Kim Sava, Dave Schoonover, Lauren Elaine Taylor, Will Taylor, and Douglas Williams. Tony Speciale, directed the play.
Costume and set design was done by Tobin Ost with help from Leslie Malitz, while Jeff Croiter and Seth Jackson did the lighting and John Shivers and David Patridge did the excellent sound. Doug Walter was orchestrator while JoAnn M. Hunter did the fabulous choreography. She was assisted by Mary Ann Lamb. Stage managers were RL Campbell and Elle Aghabala. John O'Neill was music director. Casting was done by Calleri Casting. Lora K. Powell was the production stage manager. Other members of the orchestra included Colin Freeman, Jeff Driskill, John Fumo, Robert Payne, Jennifer Choi Fischer, Ron Pedley, Ian Martin and Mark Scholl.
The Center Theatre Group, located at 135 N. Grand, Los Angeles, has parking available. Tickets run from $20- 105 (but prices are subject to change.) They can be had by calling 213 972 4400213 972 4400, or by going on online. The play runs until April 13, 2014. I would hurry and see it because you will want to see it more than once.