Bruce Sussman penned book and lyrics for the show, with music by Manilow. The work focuses on the Comedian Harmonists, a popular real-life singing group that was popular in Europe 70 years ago. The pre-Broadway tryout begins Nov. 25 at the Forrest Theatre in Philly.
Principal cast includes Kate Baldwin (Arena Stage's South Pacific), Stephen R. Buntrock (Oklahoma!, Les Miz), Janine LaManna (Seussical), Bradley Dean (Man of La Mancha), Aaron Lazar (Oklahoma!), David Turner (The Invention of Love) and Thom Christopher Warren (The Lion King).
The company also includes Heather Ayers, Cara Cooper, Joe Dellger, Leo Ash Evens, Nicole Foret, Ivy Fox, Jack Hayes, Steve Hogle, James Kinney, Ian Knauer, Mary Ann Lamb, Elizabeth Loyacano, April Nixon, Josh Rhodes, Alex Sanchez, Gordon Stanley, Lee Zarrett and Jennifer Zimmerman.
A Broadway premiere is planned for 2004, though no theatre has been announced. Performances continue in Philly to Jan. 3. Opening there is set for Dec. 10. Manilow is known as a songwriter-singer who crooned "Mandy," "I Write the Songs," "Copacabana" and other pop hits. Copacabana, a musical inspired by the song, has played regionally.
"Inspired by the true lives of the Comedian Harmonists, Harmony tells the story of six young men who formed a singing group in the waning days of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s," according to production notes. "Rising from unemployed street musicians to world-famous entertainers who performed in concerts halls around the world, sold millions of records, and made over a dozen films, the Comedian Harmonists created a completely unique style that mixed physical humor with suave musical sophistication. But despite their tremendous success, the group was eventually torn apart as the Nazis tightened their grip on Germany."
The show was first mounted as a regional production at the La Jolla Playhouse in La Jolla, California in 1997, where it broke box-office records.
David Warren directs. Choreography is by Peter Pucci. Designers are Derek McLane (scenic); David Woolard (costumes); Howard Binkley (lighting), with orchestrations by Don Sebesky.
Harmony's producers are Mark Schwartz, in association with Garry C. Kief and Brent Peek. Richard Jay-Alexander is executive producer.
Barry Manilow is not widely known for his musical theatre writing, but is internationally embraced as a singer and for writing and/or singing dozens of smash-hit songs from the 1970s and '80s.
He earned the Tony, Emmy and Grammy awards, as well as an Oscar nomination. He was given a Special Tony Award in 1977.
According to his bio, Manilow's theatrical roots go back to his days in the mailroom at CBS in New York, when, at 18, he wrote the entire original score for a musical adaptation for the melodrama, The Drunkard. The show ran Off-Broadway for eight years. Manilow made his film scoring debut in 1994 with the Warner Brothers animated film "Thumbelina," with songs co-written with his Harmony collaborator Bruce Sussman. His second animated feature, "The Pebble and the Penguin," also with collaborator Sussman, was released in 1995.
Lyricist-librettist Sussman is the co-author of over 150 published and recorded songs written for dozens of artists, films, television programs and stage musicals. His collaborations for the stage include the Off-Broadway musical, Miami (book by Wendy Wasserstein), the score for Ted Tally's play with music, Coming Attractions (Pulitzer Prize finalist, Outer Critics Circle Award) and several stage revues including Broadway's Madwoman of Central Park West, Off-Broadway's Tuxedoes for Hire, and Howard Crabtree's Whoop Dee Doo! (Drama Desk Award).
Director David Warren's credits include Rodgers and Hart's musical Pal Joey at the Huntington Theatre, Nicky Silver's Pterodactyls at the Vineyard Theatre (Obie Award for Distinguished Direction), Philip Barry's Holiday at Circle in the Square, Broadway's Summer and Smoke for the Roundabout Theatre, William Finn's musical, Romance in Hard Times at New York's Public Theater, Nicky Silver's Fit To Be Tied at Playwrights Horizons, Hobson's Choice at the Atlantic Theatre Company, The Dazzle at Roundabout, and Gone Home and Barbra's Wedding for Manhattan Theatre Club.
Pucci has directed and choreographed for his own company, Peter Pucci Plus Dancers, since 1986. Prior to founding his own company, he was a principal dancer and co-choreographer for Pilobolus Dance Theater. He has created movement for numerous New York and regional theatre productions.
The Forrest Theatre is at 1114 Walnut Street. Tickets to Harmony go on sale Oct. 12. Interested parties should call (800) 447-7400. The Forrest box office opens Nov. 3.
The Comedian Harmonists were also the subject of the Broadway show, Banned in Berlin, which had a run at the Helen Hayes Theatre in spring 1999. That 100 minute, intermissionless show utilized film, voiceover, projections and shadow puppetry and featured 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.
Co-director, playwright and co-conceiver Susan Feldman's musical was seen in March 1998 at Philadelphia's American Music Theatre Festival.
The Comedian Harmonists were a six-member, male vocal group (five vocalists and a pianist) with a smooth, lighthearted elegance. They rose to international fame in the 1920s with tours and recordings, including a performance at Radio City Music Hall. Because three of the members were Jewish, the group was squelched with the rise of Hitler's Third Reich, and the group disbanded.