New mu­si­cal ex­plores boy band dur­ing Nazi rise

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Barry Manilow brings mu­si­cal tal­ents to lo­cal stage.

He writes the songs that make the whole world sing. And he’s the voice be­hind them as well: “Mandy,” “Copaca­bana” and dozens more. Now Barry Manilow is col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Al­liance Theatre for the com­pany’s 2013-2014 sea­son opener, “Har­mony – A New Mu­si­cal,” tak­ing the stage early next month.

“Har­mony” is the true story of what could be the first boy band ex­traor­di­naire: The Co­me­dian Hu­morists, com­posed of six young men in Ger­many in the 1920s. They sold mil­lions of records and starred in films. But three mem­bers were Jewish and as anti-Semitism grew, the group fell apart. Nazis even­tu­ally dis­banded them.

Manilow is sur­prised that the band is rel­a­tively ob­scure to to­day’s au­di­ences.

“They were huge in Europe, all over the place, but we didn’t know about them,” he says. “They were the Man­hat­tan Trans­fer (of their age). They knocked us out.” He com­pares their hu­mor to that of the Marx Broth­ers.

The fine line in “Har­mony” is cre­at­ing a mu­si­cal with a great score (al­most 20 songs in all) but with a darker sub­ject — and not mak­ing it overly mo­rose. Manilow is quick to point out that this isn’t a Holo­caust mu­si­cal. “It ends in 1935,” he says. While Manilow is han­dling the mu­sic for the pro­duc­tion, his long­time writ­ing part­ner Bruce Suss­man is re­spon­si­ble for the book and lyrics. The At­lanta gig is di­rected by Broad­way vet­eran Tony Spe­ciale.

Manilow and Suss­man were in town re­cently for re­hearsals and are pleased with what they are see­ing.

“It is go­ing great,” Suss­man says. “It’s been thrilling; it is go­ing to be a spec­tac­u­lar show.”

Suss­man read an ar­ti­cle about the Co­me­dian Hu­morists and soon af­ter saw the doc­u­men­tary about them. He knew he had a pro­ject. The mu­si­cal was first pro­duced back in 1997 at the La Jolla Play­house in La Jolla, Calif.

The up­com­ing At­lanta show is the first stag­ing since, al­though there have been at­tempts to do it else­where. When Suss­man and Manilow were look­ing around for a re­gional the­ater to re-stage it, peo­ple kept on men­tion­ing the Al­liance. They called and found a wel­com­ing home.

“Har­mony” has been tight­ened since the 1997 pro­duc­tion. The first act is much shorter, Suss­man says. He refers to it as a new vi­sion.

Both men feel “Har­mony” is es­pe­cially rel­e­vant for LGBT au­di­ences.

“Who wouldn’t re­late to six friends in trou­ble cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful mu­sic in a ter­ri­ble time?” Manilow says.

Suss­man be­lieves “any group in the shad­ows or that have been in the shad­ows” can em­pathize with the char­ac­ters. Dur­ing the course of the mu­si­cal is the rise of national so­cial­ism and the track­ing down of gays and les­bians, he says.

Af­ter the At­lanta en­gage­ment, the mu­si­cal will travel to Los An­ge­les. Be­yond that, where it goes is any­one’s guess, al­though Suss­man and Manilow cer­tainly would not be op­posed to tak­ing it else­where.

For now, though, “our blin­ders are on; we’re only think­ing of this pro­duc­tion,” says Suss­man.

Al­though they love the pop songs that made Manilow pop­u­lar, the two re­al­ize that do­ing a stage mu­si­cal takes a good five years to pro­duce. Pre­vi­ously, the two worked on a stage ver­sion of “Copaca­bana” to­gether, as well as a few films.

The se­cret to a 41-year work­ing re­la­tion­ship, both men feel, is know­ing how to col­lab­o­rate — know­ing that it’s okay some­times to make a fool out of your­self and try new things un­til it all clicks.


Get­ting a one-week ex­ten­sion is Serenbe Play­house’s “Hair,” the ‘60s rock mu­si­cal that closes out the com­pany’s three-show sum­mer sea­son.

Brian Clow­dus, the openly gay artis­tic di­rec- tor of the com­pany, is di­rect­ing this ver­sion, as well as fill­ing in for the role of Berger this week­end. In his hands, “Hair” is beau­ti­fully ex­e­cuted, with an en­sem­ble cast that ra­bidly tears through the ma­te­rial.

It’s one of the best lo­cal mu­si­cals in re­cent years. If you haven’t seen it, do so be­fore it closes.

(Courtesy photo)

‘Who wouldn’t re­late to six friends in trou­ble cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful mu­sic in a ter­ri­ble time?’ asks pop le­gend Barry Manilow (right), who col­lab­o­rated on ‘Har­mony – A New Mu­si­cal’ with long­time writ­ing part­ner Bruce Suss­man.

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