Stage: Manilow brings Comedian Harmonists Musical to New York

Manilow brings Comedian Harmonists musical to New York

Barry Manilow revives the German vocal group Comedian Harmonists in New York. Photo: Greg Allen/Invision/AP/dpa

© dpa-infocom GmbH

Barry Manilow is best known for songs like “Mandy” or “Can’t Smile Without You”. But he also wrote a musical about the Comedian Harmonists – and has now brought it to New York.

It’s not Broadway. The “National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene” is located about seven kilometers south of New York’s theater district on the southern tip of Manhattan in a Holocaust museum and has a rather small stage.

But for “Harmony”, a musical by musician Barry Manilow about the history of the Comedian Harmonists, the frame and context fit.

Manilow, who is otherwise better known for tearjerkers like “Mandy” or “Can’t Smile Without You”, has been working on the musical for decades. It premiered in California in 1997, was later performed in Atlanta and Los Angeles and should have been shown in New York for a long time now, but the corona pandemic pushed the project further and further back.

Spectators must wear a mask

The pandemic is ongoing, all visitors must show proof of vaccination and wear a mask, and a corona infection even prevented Manilow from attending the premiere himself – but the play is now running in New York and is scheduled to close on May 8th be seen “Put on a protective mask and watch the show!” Manilow urged his fans.

Written by Manilow in collaboration with Bruce Sussman, “Harmony: A New Musical” tells the story of the legendary German vocal group Comedian Harmonists. It begins with a performance by the six members of the German-Jewish a cappella ensemble at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1933, then goes back and tells the story of the group from its inception in the 1920s.

The piece also poses the question: what would happen if the band hadn’t gone back to Germany after the Carnegie Hall performance, but had stayed in the USA? Would a long world career have been possible alongside star diva Josephine Baker? A corresponding music contribution remains a dream. The members decided to return to Germany, where the National Socialists soon banned them from performing together. Some band members fled abroad, all survived the Nazi era. The last founding member, Roman Cycowski – who serves as narrator in the play, played by Chip Zien – died in California in 1998.

Slapstick comedy

The story of the Comedian Harmonists fascinates millions of people worldwide to this day – and has already been used in many books, films and stage plays. In Germany, the 1997 film “Comedian Harmonists” by Joseph Vilsmaier was particularly successful. Viewers of the Manilow musical have to do without well-known classics such as “My little green cactus” or “Veronika, der Lenz ist da” – the German language joke is not so easily translated into English. Instead, Manilow works more with acrobatic slapstick comedy and lets the comedians throw plates or jump around wildly while singing.

This is well received by many viewers, the piece is usually sold out and is celebrated with standing ovations. The “New York Times” also spoke of a “not perfect” but “very touching show”.


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