Manilow and Sussman's Harmony Canceled in Philly; Shocked Troupe Told of Money Woes

News   Manilow and Sussman's Harmony Canceled in Philly; Shocked Troupe Told of Money Woes The pre-Broadway staging of Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman's musical, Harmony, has been canceled due to lack of funding, company members were told at a 10 AM meeting Nov. 13.

The troupe was to ship out to Philadelphia Nov. 17 to work on the show before its first performance at the Forrest Theatre Dec. 2. The plan was a Broadway berth in 2004.

The shocked company was told that millions of dollars were not yet in place, and it was uncertain that so much money could be raised in the few weeks prior to the Philly bow. Any hope for an early 2004 run on Broadway is also dead as of Nov. 13. The company had been in rehearsals for several weeks.

The heartbreaking thing about the announcement, company members and observers said, is that outsiders will perceive that the shuttering is due to artistic and not financial issues.

Mark Schwartz is the lead producer of the musical, and has been a champion of the show, but apparently did not have the funding in place, company members were told. Schwartz was not available to talk when Playbill On-Line called noontime Nov. 13.

"My heart breaks for the hundreds of talented men and women who will be hurt by this colossal blunder," Manilow said in a statement, referring to Schwartz's producing. "We all deeply hope that this situation can be corrected and that this powerful piece will finally be seen." Since its world premiere tryout several years ago in La Jolla, the show has gone through many changes. Company members in the David Warren-directed troupe have been excited about the maturity and richness in the storytelling, and said the show was human and unlike anything in the current Broadway season.

"In this Broadway season, this should would have been a powerful contender," Jim Russek, of Rave Advertising, which handled the ad campaign for the show, told Playbill On-Line.

The fallout of the production extends to Russek's respected company, whose clients include Lincoln Center Theater, Stomp and New Victory Theatre. Russek said the Harmony production company owes his company some $200,000. Radio and newspaper ads were planned for "all over" the Philadelphia area.

"It destroys my company," Russek said. "I am going to have radio stations and print media chasing us down..."

Harmony was an ambitious stretch in style for composer Manilow, known for singing and/or writing pop hits such as "Copacabana," "Mandy" and "I Write the Songs."

Bruce Sussman penned book and lyrics for the show, with new music by Manilow. The work focuses on the Comedian Harmonists, a real-life singing group that was popular in Europe 70 years ago.

Money people who were brought into New York rehearsals in recent weeks were enthusiastic about the show, but as much as $7 million may not be in place. Playbill On-Line learned that the Philadelphia load-in of the show had been stopped a week ago, and that vendors and others are owed money.

"I'm surprised there aren't heroes out there who will support Barry," Russek said, sharing a hope that a white knight will step in to solve the financial issues.

"The score is so beautiful, the story is so powerful, that people would let it go down is very surprising to me," Russek.

Fixing the financial issues may not be as simple as writing a check however. Industry sources suggest potential investors would likely want another lead producer on the show. And in order for investors to come aboard, they must come into rehearsals with the knowledge that rehearsals, previews and out of town tryout are all about making a show better. If they are expecting a finished product in a studio, they are expecting the impossible.

"It's a workshop at the moment," said one source. "The reason you go out of town is to make it better."

"I'm surprised Mark went forward knowing now how little of the money he had in place," Russek said. "He still owns the rights [to the show]. Why go forward with it if the money in not place?"

He added, "Mark had the courage to do that show, which is great, but he didn't have the money... There are people with money who don't have the courage..."

Russek said he produced three of the show's songs for advertising and "they make you cry, they're phenomenal."

By all accounts, Tony nominee Brian d'Arcy James was creating what could have been the role of a lifetime, playing Rabbi, one of the members of the 1920s German singing group.

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The 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.

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.

For all things Barry Manilow, visit www.barrymanilow.com.

Composer Barry Manilow (foreground on piano bench) and writer Bruce Sussman (background on bench), with director David Warren (next to Sussman) and the male principal cast of <i>Harmony</i>.
Composer Barry Manilow (foreground on piano bench) and writer Bruce Sussman (background on bench), with director David Warren (next to Sussman) and the male principal cast of Harmony.