5 Reasons Why We’re Confused About Harmony’s Afterlife
By: Iris Wiener
May. 15, 2022: With the upcoming closing of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s Harmony: A New Musical, one can’t help but wonder why it is getting an original cast recording amidst talk of an uptown transfer. The premise of Harmony is intriguing and lays the groundwork for engaging theater, but it crumbles quickly: The Comedian Harmonists, a singing group of six young men in 1920s Germany broke the mold of entertainment with their meticulous harmonies and simultaneous antics; they even went on to produce many hit records and appeared in a number of films. Three members were Jewish and one was married to a Jewish communist activist, facts that provide the political and devastating background for their story being told on the New York stage for the first time. It is written by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, choreographed by Warren Carlyle (The Music Man) and stars the delightful Chip Zien (Into the Woods). So where did this snoozer of a musical go awry?
1. Its wealth of forgettable music. With 20-plus numbers spread throughout 2.5 hours, only one tune stands out…
2. The catchy introduction “Harmony,” which predominantly remains in one’s mind because of the annoyingly repetitive lyrics and cute overtones. If audiences were looking for depth, they would need to look elsewhere.
3. The lack of humor. For a show about comedians, there is little that evokes laughter. Zien donning the stockings and blonde wig of Marlene Dietrich is mildly funny, but songs and choreography meant to elicit humor through silliness (see the not-so-subtle “How Can I Serve You, Madame?”) force giggles at best.
4. The harmonizing of the incredibly talented sextet is thrilling to watch, but the women in Harmony are not in sync with the deficient plot. Sierra Boggess and Jessie Davidson, the wives tormented over their husbands’ roles in the downfall of Germany’s morale, deliver their soft ballads with care; however, their songs are throwaways and don’t enhance the story in the slightest (though they did serve as lullabies for much of the older audience caught snoozing at this reviewer’s show).
5. Zien serves many roles as the show’s narrator, but we know from the start that he is an older version of the Harmonist named Rabbi. His final reveal to the audience is a segment about his survivor’s guilt, which lacks set-up and feels like the bookend to a different show. Instead, it serves as a reminder about the enormous holes in Sussman’s book, and how he and Manilow tried (and mostly failed) to tell a profound story.
Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
36 Battery Place
Through May 15
Photo: Julieta Cervantes