The Real Story Behind Harmony

Harmony is an intriguing new Broadway musical that tells the story of the six talented singers who formed the Comedian Harmonists, a music ensemble that became an international sensation in pre-World War II Germany. The show gives us a glimpse into the lives of the musicians, their camaraderie, their struggles, and their remarkable journey together. While Broadway has seen a plethora of musicals based on real-life events and famous biographies over the years, Harmony stands out for its unique narrative revolving around one of the darkest moments in human history and signature singing style as an homage to the original band.

Broadway, the epicenter of American theatre, spreads the spirit of storytelling through its diverse range of shows. Enter Harmony; a time capsule of an era bursting with art yet darkened by political turbulence. This show juggles the dualities of its historical backdrop; the camaraderie and the melodies play against the grim realities of the time. It’s this delicate balancing act, the dance between the light and the shadow, that sets Harmony in a league of its own in the bustling Broadway scene.

This tale revolves around six friends – Harry Frommermann, Bobby Biberti, Erich Collin, Rabbi Cycowski, Ari Leschnikoff, and Erwin Bootz. These talented young men, hailing from different backgrounds and carrying diverse aspirations, found a common thread in their love for music. They formed the Comedian Harmonists, unknowingly setting foot on a journey that would forever etch their names in music history.

The Historical Context of Harmony

Comedian Harmonists were born in a period marred by the economic crisis and the rise of totalitarian ideologies. Amidst this turmoil, six men united by their passion for music formed a band that would soon charm audiences across Europe and America. Their sound quickly caught the public’s interest, catapulting them to fame. A defining feature of the Comedian Harmonists was their ability to seamlessly weave their voices together, creating a rich and complementary blend. This unique vocal technique allowed individual singers to emerge and recede into the vocal texture, creating a dynamic and captivating sound. This distinctive style was not just about showcasing individual talent; it was about creating a collective voice that was greater than the sum of its parts. The Comedian Harmonists possessed an exceptional musicality that, to this day, is a key aspect of their enduring legacy.

The Individuals Who Inspired Harmony

Each member brought their unique talents and experiences to the group, creating the balanced mix that was the Comedian Harmonists. Harry Frommermann, the founder and tenor buffo, was the driving force behind the group’s inception. Inspired by American groups like The Revelers, he envisioned a music ensemble that would captivate audiences with its unique style of music.

Robert Biberti, the bassist, provided the group with its deep, melodious undertones. His voice was the anchor around which the harmonies revolved. Erich Collin, the second tenor, and Ari Leschnikoff, the first tenor, each added their unique voices to the mix, creating the diverse vocal range that was the group’s signature. Roman Cycowski, the baritone, and Erwin Bootz, the pianist, completed the ensemble, adding depth and richness to the group’s sound.

The dynamics between the members were a significant aspect of the Comedian Harmonists. Each member brought something unique to the table, and their individual contributions played a significant role in shaping the group’s sound. Despite their different backgrounds and personalities, they shared a common passion for music, and it was this shared passion that bound them together, creating a harmony that transcended just music.

The Comedian Harmonists’ Struggles and Triumphs

The journey of the Comedian Harmonists was not devoid of struggles. As three of the members were Jewish or of Jewish descent, the rise of the Nazis posed a significant threat to the group. Their music was branded as “degenerate” by the Nazis, and they faced increasing restrictions on their performances. Despite these challenges, the group’s resilience and determination to continue their musical journey was unwavering. After giving their final concert in Germany in 1934, they immigrated to other countries in an attempt to keep the band together, braving the hostility toward Germans prevalent in many nations during that era.

However, the political climate ultimately led them to disband. The group was first split in two, with half of the members remaining in Germany while the other half immigrated abroad and proceeded to tour Europe, the US, and Australia. Sadly, both parts of the band suffered from the harsh political atmosphere of the time. By 1941, the ensembles were forced to stop performing, never to reunite on stage again. 

Despite their untimely end, the Comedian Harmonists left behind a legacy that continues to resonate today. Their innovative approach to music, their courage in the face of adversity, and their unwavering commitment to their art form continue to inspire musicians and artists around the world. Their story, beautifully captured in Harmony, serves as a reminder of their remarkable journey, their struggles and triumphs, and the indelible mark they left on the world of music, as well as serving as a commentary on political censorship and discrimination in today’s world.

Harmony: The Broadway Show

The captivating story of the Comedian Harmonists, replete with friendship, music, and resilience amidst misery, found a fitting tribute in the Broadway musical Harmony. The show brings to life the remarkable journey of these six men, their dreams, their challenges, and their enduring legacy.

Harmony is the brainchild of Grammy Award winners Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman. Both were captivated by the life and art of the Comedian Harmonists, seeing it as a story that deserved to be told as it was both historically significant and deeply human. Their approach to the adaptation was meticulous, weaving in humor amidst the looming anxiety of those years and the camaraderie that was the essence of the Comedian Harmonists while not shying away from the harsh realities of the era.

The team stayed as authentic in the portrayal of the six individuals and the historical landscape on stage as the format allowed. In an era where understanding and empathy are increasingly crucial, telling stories like this one is all the more important. Harmony reminds audiences of our shared humanity, our capacity for creativity that unites different people under one idea, and our ability to endure and thrive despite challenges.

A band that once ruled the charts in the late 20s and early 30s has sadly faded into obscurity over time. Despite their impressive record of 21 film appearances, performing alongside legends like Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker, and an astonishing record of 97 singles and EPs and 101 compilations, the band’s name is unfamiliar to many today.

The credit for bringing this show to the Broadway limelight goes to the restless production team led by Ken Davenport. Harmony’s journey to Broadway was far from smooth. It took its first bow in San Diego in 1997 and made an unsuccessful attempt to grace the Broadway stage in 2004 before finally finding its footing in Atlanta and Los Angeles in 2013 and 2014, respectively. After a successful off-Broadway run in 2022, winning an Off-Broadway League Award and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book, the production finally found its rightful place on Broadway, giving audiences a chance to rediscover and relish the remarkable music of the Comedian Harmonists.

Harmony is more than just a show, it’s a journey into a remarkable chapter of history. As we witness the trials, triumphs, and unwavering harmony of these six remarkable personalities, we are reminded of the timeless power of music and friendship. So, this season, immerse yourself in this musical tribute to the Comedian Harmonists and let their story and music resonate with you for years to come.