Since 1997, composer-singer Barry Manilow and lyricist-librettist Bruce Sussman — the staff behind iconic ’70s pop classics equivalent to “Copacabana” — have been seeking to get their sensible and witty “Concord: The Musical” to Broadway. After its world premiere at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse, the pair introduced its flashy historic story to Philadelphia, Atlanta and Los Angeles earlier than touching down for its present run at downtown Manhattan’s intimate Museum of Jewish Heritage.
It’s an applicable venue for the present, a true-life story of “the three Jews and three Gentiles” behind The Comic Harmonists. This pre-Nazi-era, tightknit singing-and-slapstick act — an ensemble “hotter than horseradish” — was so standard in Germany (packed concert events, hit singles, movies), then around the globe, that “Concord” begins not at dwelling, however on the top of its powers on Dec. 16, 1933, at New York’s Carnegie Corridor.
It was an evening to recollect: a sold-out present throughout the ocean, a telegram from NBC Radio asking to satisfy for a possible long-term program contract, a burgeoning inventive relationship with Josephine Baker. That very same New York night time, although, was additionally the start of the top within the recollections of the group member often known as “Rabbi” (Chip Zien) — the last-man-standing (and singing) of the Comic Harmonists, narrating the sextet’s story.
He blames youthful naiveté on the group’s demise. The Comic Harmonists opted to return to Germany somewhat than keep in New York, with the ensemble’s members — one Bulgarian, a number of non-Jewish Germans (one in every of whom married a Jewish girl) and three younger Jewish males — all figuring that the onset of Aryan Nationalism was all speak and would blow over like each different cockamamie hate-based group in Europe at the moment.
However because the Third Reich unfold anti-Semitic worry, it quickly banned the sextet from singing items by Jewish composers, then burned their present movies and recordings, and finally prohibited the group from performing in public till its Jewish members have been summarily dismissed.
Sussman and Manilow’s rating for the present lends a recent aptitude to the enjoyment, brotherhood, disappointment, disillusionment and guilt skilled by The Comic Harmonists — two tenors, one tenor buffo, one bass singer, a pianist and the baritone “Rabbi” (portrayed in his dotage by Zien and as a younger singer by Danny Kornfeld) — and the ladies who beloved them.
Specifically, Manilow’s memorable melodies are each cleverly married to the schlager-showtune-cabaret vibe of its time whereas nonetheless sounding as contemporary as yesterday. Whether or not by means of the Harmonists’ song-driven routines (as within the title tune and a fantastically staged, full-group “How Might I Serve You, Madame?”) or with a mournful dialog between wives (Sierra Boggess and Jessie Davidson’s “The place You Go?) or by means of the pointed, poignant numbers sung by Younger Rabbi and Rabbi (“Each Single Day” and “Threnody”), Manilow’s pop prowess is ever-present.
Sussman, in the meantime, supplies a crackling, cracking-wise script. Whereas the true story, embellished and dramatized with a number of composite characters, touches on humorous Yiddish beliefs particular to the Harmonists’ time (jokes about cantors’ sons lastly getting the chance to sing in main keys acquired big laughs), there may be additionally a vibrant, frenetic really feel for present-day language in Sussman’s texts. Dictators by no means change, even when their rants do — or, to place it in Sussman’s phrases, “It’s the identical hate, simply completely different uniforms.”
Each ingredient of “Concord” clicks in place like a stunning puzzle. A artistic staff of theater veterans, together with director-choreographer Warren Carlyle and lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, navigate the Museum’s small house with dynamism and dexterity. Utilizing again wall mirrors and video imagery to broaden the scope of the stage, “Concord” looks like a mega-watt Broadway musical, however in Battery Park.
The identical less-is-more strategy could be heard in music director John O’Neill’s opulent klezmer-meets-Tin Pan Alley orchestrations for his small band. When Rabbi appears again on the thrilling motion aboard an evening prepare to Munich when a Younger Rabbi winds up in an opportunity assembly with Hitler, the frustration and lifelong guilt of the elder and the deer-in-headlights inactivity of the youthful are heightened to haunting, then raging impact by means of Manilow and O’Neill’s tensely melodic and grand association for “Threnody.”
Every of the performers embodying the Comic Harmonists — Kornfeld, Sean Bell, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman and Steven Telsey — look and sound the half whereas nonetheless coming throughout as up to date. The person quirks, humor and stubbornness of their characters present by means of as deliciously as do their in-tandem musical skills for interwoven, shut concord.
The 2 girls on the coronary heart of “Concord” show comparable ranges of ardour, however for various causes. As somebody devoted to actual protest within the face of an incoming Nazi regime, Ruth (Davidson) directs the identical rage towards her husband’s cowardice in standing as much as the Reich. The Younger Rabbi’s spouse, Mary (Boggess), isn’t any much less passionate or political, however saves her slow-burning ire for the sake of self-preservation. Each performers and their characters encourage real warmth.
The forceful actor on the middle of the present, Zien, aptly portrays the duality of a Rabbi plagued with guilt for his inactions, but in addition full of a delicate, humorous nostalgia for the gleeful music and comedy that he and his 5 collaborators dropped at the world. As well as, Zien manages to tug off taking part in Albert Einstein, Robert Strauss and a pre-fame Marlene Dietrich (prime hat, tights, growly Germanic vocals and all). It’s a research in athleticism and theater magic.
And that’s the best thrill of this “Concord.” Together with arriving at a collective sense of household by present’s finish, this historical past lesson additionally demonstrates the facility of creating humanity sing, even in our darkest hours.
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