The prolonged autumn battle over which Off-Broadway show will win the much sought after Helen Hayes Theatre is over, and the dark horse, Band in Berlin, has emerged as the victor. As the Hayes' current occupant, the struggling Getting and Spending, is still running, no opening date has been announced.
There is a curious irony to Berlin 's victory. Earlier this fall, the musical was due to move into Union Square Theatre, but was thwarted when Visiting Mr. Green suddenly opted to extend its run at that Off-Broadway house. That bit of misfortune turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Berlin, who graduated to a Broadway run. Additionally, in attaining the Hayes, Berlin beat out its main competitor for the theatre, the Off-Broadway hit Wit, sending that show to -- where else -- the Union Square Theatre.
Susan Feldman Berlin played the American Music Theatre Festival Mar. 11-22, 1998 at the WHYY Forum Theatre in Philadelphia. It featured the sextet Hudson Shad, and was co-directed by Feldman and Patricia Birch, and choreographed by Birch (best known for her work on Broadway in shows ranging from Grease to Pacific Overtures ).
The show is about The Comedian Harmonists, who rose to prominence in 1920s Germany, and were inspired by well-known American groups of the era like the Mills Brothers and the Texas Revellers. Half of the Harmonists' members were Jewish, and -- as Hitler rose to power -- the group was increasingly harassed by German censors. In 1935 they were forced to disband.
The Jewish group members emigrated to the U.S., but were unable to succeed as performers without the other troupe members. Band in Berlin utilizes multimedia elements (including film, projections and shadow puppetry) and features songs that became closely identified with the Harmonists -- "Stormy Weather," "Night and Day," "Tea for Two," "Whistle While You Work," Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call" and even a vocal "arrangement" of the overture to The Barber of Seville.