Saturday, 14 September 2013


          There was a fine 1997 German film about the Comedian-Harmonists, an all male German singing group that was the sensation of Europe from 1927-1934 when the Nazi's stopped the group because three members were Jewish. The group created much of their own material and their songs were the top hits of the day. They also starred in twelve films. The film, THE HARMONISTS, wisely presented a number of the Comedian-Harmonists' greatest hits as it chronicled the story of their rise and fall. The actors actually lip-synched to the original recordings. Now in the musical HARMONY Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman have given us their musical take on the group. It is being tried out at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. I'm afraid the problems with the show are so basic that it can't possibly have much of a future.
           HARMONY suffers from three major flaws. First, the music Barry Manilow has written for the group isn't as good as the Comedian-Harmonist's music. Not surprisingly it sounds like Barry Manilow, not like hit German tunes from the period. Would you write a musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons without the music that made them famous? Why do that with the Comedian-Harmonists when their music is so delightful?
            Second, there isn't enough of the Comedian Harmonists' act. They have only four onstage numbers. In general, Manilow is skimpy with music. Like Andrew Lloyd Webber, he prefers to repeat the same few songs rather than write a real musical score. Most of the songs are mediocre maudlin ballads that have nothing to do with the group.
             Third, the book is awful. Manilow and Sussman are more interested in the group as victims of Nazi oppression than as fine writers and performers. The Jews in the group weren't killed -- they got out and tried to form another group. In other words, they were more fortunate than six million others. Why single them out as victims? The show spends a lot of time on the troubled Gentile-Jew marriages of two of the group. Part of the success of the Comedian Harmonists came from the fact that their bouncy tunes offered a relief from the dire state of things in Germany during the depression and the triumph of the Nazi regime. HARMONY is more focused on the Nazi horror. The show is narrated by one of the group, a former Polish rabbi who is riddled by guilt because he didn't take political action. Could he really have killed Hitler? Doubtful. In the last ten minutes of the show, he has an interminable monologue cataloguing the fate of each member of the group as if they suffered greatly. Most lived into old age -- what's the big deal? It's dreary and badly written and the poor actor who has to speak it isn't up to the task. Who would be? Somehow Richard Strauss, Marlene Dietrich and Albert Einstein, all badly caricatured, end up in this mess.
              The six performers who play the Comedian Harmonists -- Will Blum, Chris Dwan, Shayne Kennon, Will Taylor, Douglas Williams, Tony Yazbek -- are terrific in their numbers together. Too bad they couldn't do the original material. And too bad they are saddled with this bummer of a book. Too bad, too, that they don't get better direction and choreography. In every serious ballad -- and lord knows there are a lot of them -- director Tony Speciale has his performers move to the footlights and face forward. It's like bad opera direction. No one sings to the character they are supposed to be singing to or with. The orchestrations are pure Vegas and don't give any period flavor. They aren't helped by the tinny sound.
                I doubt HARMONY is going far beyond Atlanta. Its faults are too basic to be corrected in a six week tryout. The Atlanta audience gave it a standing ovation. However, the Atlanta audience gives everything a standing ovation, thus rendering the practice meaningless.  
HARMONY. Alliance Theatre, Atlanta. September 13, 2013


  1. The current Harmony storyline is WHY the writers had never heard of this group. If the endeavors of the Comedian Harmonists were to be portrayed on stage in their entirety (for as much as is known about them), it certainly would have been longer than 3 hours. There were enough songs in the show to fill a CD - hopefully we'll see that forthcoming. Only one Harmonist lived to the age of 98 (Rabbi) - you need to do ALL your homework before you give something a really bad rating like this. What a bunch of dribble.

  2. First of all being compared to Andrew Lloyd Webber is not a bad thing. The score that Mr. Manilow has composed for this musical is brilliant and simply amazing! You obviously didn't hear what the rest of the audience was hearing.

    Second, this was not meant to be a documentary. Those already exist. It is a musical that set out to entertain, educate, and move people. All of which it did and did extremely well. It set out to tell the story of 6 extremely talented men not victims! I never left the theater feeling as though the story was about the Holocaust. I left feeling proud of Mr. Manilow and Bruce Sussman for telling a story about an extremely talented "boy band" that grew up in a terrible time in history who worked through extreme differences in their lives to become the very best of friends despite those differences! The musical was about collaboration and finding "harmony"!

    It's disappointing you missed all that. Maybe had you set aside your pompous arrogant attitude you would have seen much more! Oh are a professor at Duke....that explains quite a lot!

    1. This is one comment that I totally agree with!!!

  3. I don't know what performance you saw, but it certainly wasn't the same one I did. The actors and actresses did a fantastic job of telling the story. Kennon's (Rabbi) emotional performance toward the end of the second act left everyone spellbound and crying. You could have heard a pin drop.
    Not once did I think this was a statement about the Holocaust. I saw it as the experiences of 8 people trying to cope with a changing world and how that affected the dynamics within the group.

    The casting was amazing, the transitions between scenes were fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed the music and the production numbers. Each contributed in it's way to furthering and enhancing the story which, in case you missed this point, is being told from the perspective of an 87 year old "Rabbi". It contains his emotions and his guilt - real or perceived. I agree with the comments above - this was never intended to be a documentary. It's entertainment that is meant to be thought-provoking while also enjoyable.

    One thing to remember - it is more relevant to current times than people may think. Hate and bigotry are still very much a part of the world.

    It is truly a pity that we cannot seem to exist in harmony.

  4. i have not seen this ide never give Barry a bad review I love this man and as for as Iam concerned its fantastic thank u to barry and bruce they have given us a rare treat and if i had the money ide gooooooooooooo and see it 100 times over every single day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    people are coming from all over the world and its a huge success..................

  5. Sir:
    I do not know your credentials for reviewing a musical, but I question whether you were at the same musical on Opening Night as everyone else was!!!

    Here are some major things you need to rethink in your review:

    1. You say the music from Harmony sounds like Manilow's signature style. Are you kidding? As far as Manilow's score is concerned, the Atlanta Magazine critic said, "The show’s music remains stylistically true to the play’s period and free from any 1970s-era {Manilow style music}. When I listen to the score, I do not hear a "Manilow-style" score, I hear a 1930's style of music of German influence.

    2. The theme of Hamony is NOT about victims of Nazi oppression, it is about six extraordinary young men and the women they loved, who together sought to find "harmony" in the most discordant chapter in history.

    3. And lastly, as far as your snide comment about "the Atlanta audience giving everything a standing ovation, thus rendering the practice meaningless [for Harmony]," who do you think you are?? If 700 audience members have given Harmony a standing ovation EVERY single night since its first performance on September 6, surely you have missed something about the quality of what happened on that stage each night. There were audience members from all over the U.S. who were present for those performances.

    4. As a critic, you should do your homework. I have heard recordings of the Comedian Harmonists and I believe that Manilow captured the unique 1920-30s style and harmonies of the group perfectly in his score.

    5. Finally, just as you critique a stage production, I hope you too can take this constructive criticism. Unlike your average theater goer, as a critic YOU need to do your homework BEFORE you take your seat in the theater. You need to know up front what you are about to see. The Alliance Theater, Mr. Manilow, and Mr. Sussman have made it perfectly clear upfront what this musical was about. YOUR job is to judge whether or not they achieved what they set out to do.

    You missed the big picture, Mr. Clum. Pity.

  6. What a bunch of garbage! Clearly you weren't paying attention! This was a musical, brought to life by two genious men! It was meant to educate us on the 6 Comedian Harmonists, and their story! The music is beautiful and touching, weren't you listening? The actors on that stage are amazing, showing every emotion, pulling us in to every scene with them! You should have done your homework, you missed out!!

  7. I dont live in Atlanta drove for 5 hours to see Harmony and you SIR are WRONG I doubt you even actually showed up and saw Harmony. IT is the most amazing musical I have seen in a very long time. BTW it will go further than Atlanta next stop is LA so once again like others said before me you did not bother to do your homework. Ignore this revuew people just go see for yourself!

  8. I've written over 200 reviews on this blog -- sometimes positive, sometimes negative, more often in between. This is the first one to inspire passionate, angry comments. In a way I am grateful for that. I am glad HARMONY was such a positive experience for so many. Despite the talented cast, it wasn't for me. Chacun a son gout (sorry for the lack of accents).
    I don't know what "homework" commenters expect me to do. I have actually done a fair amount of research on the Comedian Harmonists and their music, which has become popular again in Germany. I have published a good deal on American musical theatre. Any review is a matter of personal taste. Judgments are also somewhat comparative. I have seen every new musical in New York over the past years. I can't help comparing HARMONY to the hundreds of other shows I have seen in terms of quality of book, music and lyrics.
    As to the issue of the standing ovation, theatergoers may honestly have deemed HARMONY to be worthy of one. The fact remains that in Atlanta and more and more on Broadway EVERYTHING gets a standing ovation. I think of a standing ovation as the audience's way of giving a work or a performance an A+ -- a way of saying this is really special. I jumped to my feet at Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto's curtain call at THE GLASS MENAGERIE currently on Broadway because they were truly outstanding performances in one of the best American plays. Ditto Billy Porter's curtain call at KINKY BOOTS. But if everything gets a standing ovation, the practice is meaningless.
    It may be that some of the things I thought tedious about HARMONY, particularly in the second act, will be rectified (though I didn't see any sign of Manilow or Sussman sitting with the director taking notes at the preview I saw, a usual practice for the writers of a musical in tryout). I understand cuts have already been made. I realize that reviewing a preview is always a bit unfair. However, I do believe that once a work is put before a paying audience, preview or not, the work is fair game to be judged.
    By the way, I wouldn't call myself a fan, but I like a lot of Barry Manilow's music.

  9. Out of the last nine shows I attended Mr. Manilow was there and yes.....taking notes, and Mr. Sussman was there for all of them.

    As far as the ovation goes, the audience was comprised of people from all over the world not just from Atlanta. So I guess we will see what the L.A. audience guess is it will receive the same ovation.

    Your personal taste just seems to be extremely different than the majority of theater goers or critics. I hope if HARMONY reaches will go see it again.....and maybe see all that you missed.

  10. I take offense to you stating that "EVERYTHING gets a standing ovation" ..that may be so in your world, but not in mine. There may be a protocol for Broadway and regional theater goers to follow..but in my world a standing ovation is given for exceptional work and a moving experience... Mr Manilow and Mr Sussman's HARMONY has both.. The cast is exceptional, the book and lyrics moved me to both laughter and tears and the music is absolutely beautiful. You may have impressive credentials, but somehow, this time I think you left them outside the theater door. And speaking of doors, I have a feeling that HARMONY will be opening its doors on Broadway before we know it.. Hope to see you there and maybe your opinion of HARMONY will have changed by then..

  11. I have to admit, Mr. Clum, that you do have a right to your own opinion. That being said, so do I. Your review is an insult to the many theatregoers who so thoroughly enjoyed Harmony. You cannot have it both ways. If the audience had sat there, motionless, you would have said that it was a terrible show. They did not. Your response to a previous comment was something like "Big deal! So they stood up for a standing ovation." Grossly unfair. VERY unprofessional, and again, an insult. My wife and I saw the show twice on Saturday. We wish we could have seen it more. Mr. Sussman's storytelling is impeccable; the storyline was created exquisitely. Mr. Manilow's music was sheer perfection and it once again showed what a genius he is. You indicated that the music sounds like Barry Manilow's music. Were you hoping for the Grateful Dead? Barry Manilow wrote the music. I would expect that the music would have Mr. Manilow's writing style. You said "bummer of a book." Be aware that you are the ONLY reviewer who had such an opinion. By the way, this morning I read wonderful reviews written by teenagers. Even though I believe that teenagers see things with different eyes than adults, their reviews were highly intelligent. You might want to read these reviews. Your eyes might be opened for you. You might want to read the reviews of other adult reviewers. Somehow, I have the feeling that you knew what you were going to write before you stepped foot in the Alliance Theatre.
    You spoke about poor choreography. The choreography in "Your Son Is Becoming a Singer" and "How Can I Serve You, Madame" is fantastic. The audience loved it.
    You answered another individual that you like a lot of Barry Manilow's music. It seemed to my wife and me that you are not a Barry Manilow fan and that that influenced your review. Who knows?
    I want you to remember your words "I doubt Harmony is going far beyond Atlanta." Remember them when the show hits Broadway! Think about the critics who reviewed another show in the 80s and called it the "gloom and doom show." They said "this thing will never make it to Broadway, let alone the West End." You may have heard of this show. It is called Les Misérables. The only difference between those critics and you is that several critics panned Les Mis. You are the only one to speak negatively about Harmony.
    Mr. Manilow and Mr. Sussman have done a great service in creating a masterpiece that explains an important part of history. I am sure that you are aware that an educator's guide is available. Many schoolchildren have already seen the show in Atlanta.
    The people who have seen Harmony love it. This show will hit Broadway. Anyone who has seen it, knows it....even now.

  12. Dear Dr. Clum,

    Unlike some here, I was not insulted by your review of "Harmony", but I was surprised. While I agree with several of your comments, such as the unusual staging, I felt the pluses far outweighed the negatives.

    I guess my biggest surprise was that you would have preferred the original work of the Comedian Harmonists. I too enjoy the work of the Comedian Harmonists, but Manilow and Sussman have stated in a number of press interviews that they wanted to create an original musicial, not just another Jukebox Musical. As a fan of musical theater, I am dismayed by the lack of truly new material these days. For every successful “Jersey Boys”, there are a dozen “Viva Forevers” and far too often these days, the movie comes before the musical (Rocky, Legally Blonde, Aladdin, The Bridges of Madison County…the list goes on).

    Moreover, there already was a Broadway musical based on the original Harmonists work, “Band in Berlin”, which closed within a month of opening. I applaud Sussman and Manilow for taking on the risky endeavor of creating something completely new for theater audiences.

    I disagree that the music and orchestrations in Harmony sound like “Barry Manilow music”. Manilow has stated that he spent a lot of time studying the schlagerparade of the 1920’s and except for maybe the love ballad “Every Single Day”, the music was true to the period, and is nothing like the 1970’s hits for which Manilow is known. Also, a number of songs have been cut from the 1997 La Jolla version of the show (another one was cut as recently as preview week), so the show is still evolving.

    Personally, I liked how the same songs were referenced again and again—it made the songs more familiar during the course of the show. Besides, whether 1920’s or 1970’s, Manilow certainly knows how to write a catchy melody, and I heard a number of people humming the strains of the title song during intermission.

    I agree the book could still use some tweaking, but overall I found the show to be entertaining and thought-provoking. In the last 10 minutes of the show, you could hear a pin drop in the audience, as they sat in rapt attention. While it is true that all the Harmonists physically survived the war, there are many ways of dying. I enjoyed how director Tony Speciale presented the show in the context of the memories of the lead character, the real-life Rabbi Cycowski, who suffered from survivor’s guilt and other regrets for his past decisions, and whose memories form the core of the storyline. More than a few audience members were sniffling back tears at the end of the show, so many were moved by the performance. Clearly you weren’t one of them.

    Is Harmony perfect? Of course not. But I believe it has far more potential than your review would suggest. Other than yours, the reviews for Harmony have been very positive (summary of reviews here: Whether Harmony will be a success on Broadway remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t count it out yet.

    Suzan Oberle

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