When rehearsals started for Harmony in the still-sweltering days of early September, it marked the start of something new and also the culmination of decades of waiting and hope for its creators, pop icon Barry Manilow and writer and lyricist Bruce Sussman. The flurry of activity over that week, which also included the musical’s marquee going up and the box office opening, had Manilow—certainly no stranger to accolades and fanfare—feeling a level of shell shock.
“It’s coming at us,” he shared, sitting in a midtown restaurant during an escape from the heat. “We’ve gone through so many years of believing in this show, and this is a [moment of], ‘hang in there long enough, this is what you get.’”
Sussman, his collaborator of 50 years, couldn’t contain his emotions during that first day in the rehearsal room. When he said, “Welcome to Harmony on Broadway,” he forced the last word out with a crack in his voice.
It was a “catharsis,” he said, seated next to Manilow, adding later that he hoped the duo would be able to take these milestones in as they kept coming. Because when Harmony—which boasts original music from Manilow (read: not a jukebox musical) and book and lyrics from Sussman—officially opens at New York’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre on November 13, it will be a Broadway bow nearly 30 years in the making.
Harmony is based on the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, a German sextet that rose to fame in the late 1920s and early ’30s with their musical and comedic stylings, but because three of those members were Jewish, the group was all but erased from history once Hitler came to power. At the height of their fame, the Harmonists were international sensations, selling millions of albums, making movies, and performing with the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker. But under the Nazi regime, possessing their music at all was considered a crime.
Director-choreographer Warren Carlyle (The Music Man), who is directing the Broadway production and also helmed Harmony’s 2022 off-Broadway run, put it in a more modern context: “They were the most famous boy band in the world—and we never heard of them.”
Sussman first learned of the Harmonists via a German documentary about the group. After watching the film, he rushed to a downtown Manhattan pay phone (this was the ’90s, after all) to call Manilow; they’d been looking for something to write a musical about, and this could be it.