Well, sometimes the long road ultimately leads nowhere.
The musical chronicles the rise and fall of the Comedian Harmonists, the successful German vocal group that toured the world before the onslaught of World War II. Because several members were Jewish, the act was forced to disband. The experience is filtered through the memories of Rabbi (Chip Zien), a surviving member who serves as narrator, remembering the past from an immigrant’s perch in the United States.
The show, with book and lyrics by Bruce Sussman, wants to have its cake and eat it too. Part Cabaret, part Jersey Boys, it cannot decide on its primary focus: harrowing chronicle on the rise of fascism or lighthearted biography about life in show business. In attempting both, it achieves neither. The facile libretto largely skirts over the group’s internecine battles over how to handle the rise of Nazism in Germany — especially the differing perspectives and levels of risk faced by the Jewish and gentile members.
Considering that Manilow is one of the most successful pop musicians of all time, it’s surprising how forgettable most of the score is. There’s hardly a tune that lingers in the ear for more than 10 seconds. The melodies also exist in a bland musical no man’s land, never evoking the era in which the musical is set.
Under Warren Carlyle’s direction, the performances are competent but rarely distinctive. Zien brings an appropriate note of wistfulness to Rabbi that’s undercut by a parade of jokey small parts he also has to play. (The role of his younger counterpart, usually played by Danny Kornfeld, was taken by understudy Matthew Mucha at the reviewed performance.) Sierra Boggess and Julie Benko sing prettily as the two female romantic interests, but the script leaves them with little else to do. The other Harmonists themselves are not developed enough to be individually memorable, though Blake Roman manages a few fiery moments as the hotheaded pianist, nicknamed Chopin.
When the men come together and sing, though, you can understand what drew Manilow and Sussman to this story. They create a fleeting magic with just their voices, and as long as they’re together, Harmony is in tune.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes