Why I’m producing Harmony by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman
If this is the first time you’re hearing about this musical coming to Broadway, then start following me here . . . because this is where the breaking news hits first.
But let me recap . . .
The dream of Harmony on Broadway started a long time ago with its creators, Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman. I heard about the show from time to time as I was coming up. Incredible story, incredible score. A few people even said I should try to get involved. (You know who you are, Patrick Vacariello!)
Years later, I’m producing Gettin’ The Band Back Together on Broadway, and, well, if you saw it, then you may remember the bit where I showed how much of a massive Manilow fan I am.
And from that little moment . . . yes, from THAT moment in Gettin’ The Band Back Together, I was introduced to Bruce Sussman and then Barry Manilow. (You know who you are, Rob Shuter!)
Side note: This is one of the greatest life lessons I’ve ever received. See, Gettin’ The Band Back Together might not have “worked” – but it led to so many other wonderful things – including Harmony. Because if I had never done Band on Broadway, I NEVER would have met Bruce and Barry and I wouldn’t be writing this blog today and I wouldn’t have the honor of producing Harmony on Broadway.
Back to the story . . .
So, thanks to that moment in Gettin’ The Band Back Together, I met Bruce and Barry and finally got a chance to read and listen to Harmony.
And at that moment I was so thankful that it had NOT yet reached Broadway yet. Because I wanted to do it. I just knew we needed to find the right director.
So I signed on . . . and then, I did a podcast with Warren Carlyle.
And when it was finished, we gave each other the usual, “We gotta find something to do together,” but the thing is . . . we really meant it. 🙂 And as he was about to walk out of the door of my office . . . I literally remember where he was standing when this happened . . . I blurted out, “What do you know about Harmony?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Yes, what? You know it?”
“No, Ken. Yes. YES. I’ll do it.”
And he was in.
This was in 2019, and shortly thereafter Barry Manilow announced from the stage of his Broadway residency that Harmony would make its New York debut at the famed NYTF (the same theater that birthed the magnificent Fiddler revival) in 2020. (You know who you are, Zalmen Mlotek!)
And that didn’t happen.
But in 2022, as we were still emerging from the pandemic . . . it did.
It got reviews like, “in case you were wondering what it feels like to cry under a mask, there is a good chance you will find out” (NY Times, Elisabeth Vincentelli) and “every element of Harmony clicks in place like a gorgeous puzzle” (Variety, A.D. Amorosi).
It was nominated and won a slew of awards, including . . .
Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical (Nomination)
Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Choreographer – Warren Carlyle (Nomination)
Off-Broadway League Awards for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical (Winner)
Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Book of a Musical – Bruce Sussman (Winner)
Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Musical (Nomination)
Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Actor in a Musical – Chip Zien (Nomination)
It was even a New York Times Critic’s Pick!
So what got me “singing” Harmony? I’ll tell you, as I always do when I sign on to a show . . .
First, as I already told you . . . I’m a fanilow. Period. I feel like I’ve known Bruce and Barry forever . . . because “Copacabana” was one of the first songs I ever learned by heart. That album was my FIRST album I owned all to myself as a kid. (Side note: if you ever wondered if Barry and Bruce were musical theater writers – listen to ”Copacabana” again – it’s a STORY song, with characters and even a three act structure!)
Second, I am a fan of all-guy harmony groups. Having been a performer in the musical Forever Plaid four times (I was a Sparky) and having seen the success of my own show, Altar Boyz, as well as Jersey Boys (and the boy-band/harmony genre in general), I’ve always known that audiences have a thing for seeing groups of guys sing and dance in groups.
Third, the score to Harmony is outstanding. But it’s Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman . . . are you surprised? They write the songs. Literally. So when you come to Harmony, one of the things I will guarantee are some melodies and rich lyrics that will crawl into your ear and never come out (like that thing in Wrath of Khan, for you Trekkies out there).
Lastly, I signed on to this show because of the story. A story I did not know, but when I did, I couldn’t believe it. (And we learn in focus groups over and over again that while music may sell a musical, it’s the story that makes shows a hit.)
So what’s Harmony about?
It’s about The Comedian Harmonists . . . a group that was bigger than the Beatles in the 1920s and 1930s. They sold millions of records, made dozens of films and sold out venues all over the world.
So why don’t we know about them?
They were from Germany. And they were Gentile and Jewish.
And you can imagine what happened next.
It’s a musical that tells the story of the rise of a guy group from a street corner to big stages all over the world, performing their big ol’ comedic production numbers with a sound you’ve gotta hear to believe – only to be broken apart in one of the most horrific times in the world’s history.
It had me laughing, singing along, and yeah, shedding more than a few tears . . . just after reading it.
And honestly? It’s a story about a time and a place and a group of people that a guy with the last name of Davenport (who is half Indian and raised Catholic) isn’t as familiar with as he should be. But I want to be. And sometimes, I believe it’s important to work on things that we do NOT know anything about, so we can learn, and also hopefully educate others through entertainment. Because tragically, this story is more timely now than ever. And maybe, we can change a few hearts and minds with this piece of art.
So, thanks to the never-give-up attitude of Bruce and Barry, as well as my supportive producers including Sandi Moran, Hunter Arnold, Garry Kief, Marco Santarelli, Jonathan and Rae Corr, Adam Riemer, Scott Abrams, Amuse, Inc., Patty Baker, Tom and Michael D’Angora, Susan DuBow, Michelle Kaplan, Steve Kyriakis & Matt Donaldson, Harold Matzner, and Neil Gooding Productions, Harmony will finally . . . FINALLY be on Broadway at the famed Ethel Barrymore Theatre.
Previews begin October 18th. We open on November 13th. And after Barry and I missed the opening of Harmony at NYTF because of Covid (!), you can bet we are looking forward to it.
I hope you are too.
You can get tickets here.
And come during previews. I look forward to saying hello.
Get tickets now: www.harmonyanewmusical.com
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.