Thrilling. Wonderful. Splendid. You may hear these words quite often as people react to seeing Harmony - A New Musical at the Alliance Theatre. It has taken several attempts to stage the show. Audiences are now able to see it, and they will not be disappointed. The musical by Barry Manilow (Music) and Bruce Sussman (Book and Lyrics) is an entertaining, bittersweet show that harkens back to a golden age of musicals.
Based on the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, a German vocal group popular in the 1930s and 1940s. The group rose from obscurity to playing Carnegie Hall at its height. However, with three Jewish members in the sextet, the rise of the Nazis eventually led to the group’s demise. The story is told through the Rabbi’s (Shayne Kennon) point of view as he remembers the events.
The talented cast consists of Kennon, Will Blum, Chris Dawn, Will Taylor, Douglas Williams, Tony Yazbeck as the group along with Hannah Corneau and Leigh Ann Larkin as the female leads. With powerhouse vocals and sharp comedic timing, the cast is first rate, although Kennon seems a little too young in the role, but he owns the songs he sings and performs the songs impeccably.
Sussman’s quick-paced book blends narration, dialogue and music seamlessly. Although the group has several members, he focuses on two couples from the group, and this decision helps to move the show along, but it does make a few of the character too heavy with stock features. In addition, the first act seems a little long and takes a while to get to the conflict. The fault could possibly be remedied by removing or shortening a song or two.
While the book has a few issues, the score is nothing short of spectacular. Known for crafting pop hits, Manilow shows that his gifts with melody and musical hooks transition very well into writing for musical theater. None of the music sounds like a pop balled, which is a bit of fresh air compared to the pop-leanings of contemporary musicals, each one sounds like any you would hear in a classic show.
Some of the songs are peppy, some are beautiful. With Sussman’s ingenious and moving lyrics, the music takes the audience to emotional highs. When the souring vocals of cast members are added, the musical numbers become theatrical experiences that are not seen very often. Kennon’s “Every Single Day” is one of the show-stopping numbers and caused the audience to give extended applause. Likewise the comedic “How Can I Serve You, Madame” along with Corneau and Larkin’s poignant duet “Where You Go” were other crowd pleasers.
The technical parts of the show are flawless. The set, designed by Tobin Ost, consists of a sleek looking background that utilizes projections by Darrel Maloney. The fantastic visuals continue with JoAnn M. Hunter delightful choreography. In addition, the show couldn’t sound any better with John Shivers and David Patridge’s sound design.
With Harmony, the Alliance has one of those rare gems that will appeal to all audiences. Manilow and Sussman have crafted a musical that has drama, heart and excitement, filled with show-stopping numbers. Whether or not the creators attempt to bring the musical to Broadway again, it is destined for a long life.
Harmony - A New Musical, directed by Tony Speciale, runs through October 6, 2013 at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. For tickets and more information, please visit our Now Onstage listing or the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is about three hours including an intermission.
- Kenny Norton