If you heard that Barry Manilow, the singer best known for pop hits like ”Mandy” and ”Copacabana,” had written a new musical, you probably wouldn?t expect it to be set in the dawn of the Nazi regime in 1930s Germany. But Harmony, playing through April 13 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre, tells the real-life story of The Comedian Harmonists, a popular all-male vocal sextet that was forced to break up because half its members were Jewish. And you thought the Four Seasons had it tough in Jersey Boys.
Manilow is at his best creating new harmony for the sextet, from the catchy title tune with each member giving his backstory to the impressive Act Two opener ”Hungarian Rhapsody #20,” with the group replicating an entire string orchestra to great comedic and musical effect. The Comedian Harmonists were renowned for their special blend of six-part harmony ? and for mixing humor and melody at a time when the rest of the world was struggling to hear both.
The group consists of six fully capable singing and dancing actors. While each gets his own moment to shine, the standouts are Will Blum as the former waiter Lesh and Chris Dwan as the closeted Dr. Erich. In the end, six may be more leading men than a single show can properly handle. As a result, the underwritten love interests played by Hannah Corneau and Leigh Ann Larkin feel even more out of place.
As the show’s reluctant narrator, Rabbi Josef Roman Cykowski, Shayne Kennon has a tendency to overdramatize moments that would stand out without embellishment. Certainly, Bruce Sussman’s book does him no favors, as the second act veers into melodrama and drags out the all-too-inevitable conclusion. The story in Harmony is powerful enough on its own. B
(Tickets: CenterTheatreGroup.org or 213-972-4400)