The Comedian Harmonists might have gone down in history as more famous than the Beatles, but most people probably do not recognize their name.
Pop music legend Barry Manilow and theater veteran Bruce Sussman are telling the real-life singing group’s story, and Atlanta audiences will be the first to see the production onstage in more than a decade. After the two men spent about 15 years trying to get “Harmony — A New Musical” back on stage, the show will begin performances Sept. 6 at the Alliance Theatre under the direction of Tony Speciale.
Set in pre-World War II Germany, the musical centers on a group of six smooth-singing young men — both Jews and gentiles — who sold millions of records and starred in several films before the war tore it apart, with little history left behind.
Manilow, who wrote the music while Sussman wrote the script and lyrics, said the idea for a stage adaptation first sparked years ago, after Sussman saw a documentary about the Comedian Harmonists and told Manilow about the group.
“We thought, ‘How did people not know this group?’” Manilow said. “As a musician, it was really important for me to tell the world about them. The Comedian Harmonists were bigger than the Beatles, bigger than the Backstreet Boys. They established the foundation and the architecture of the music that’s popular today. As a Jew, it was important to remind people what happened.”
Manilow is quick to note that “Harmony” is not “a Holocaust musical,” and that it maintains the group’s notable sense of humor while still keeping true to history.
“It takes place in the approaching storm,” Sussman added.
Sussman said Alliance Artistic Director Susan V. Booth made it known early on she was eager to bring the show to the theatre.
Booth, who has been with the Alliance since 2001, said she had tracked the musical since its first outing in the ’90s, calling the storyline “just as gorgeous as it is heartbreaking.”
“We’ve been producing musicals for nearly a decade and have developed an audience with a thoughtful appreciation for musicals about something resonant, and this was all of that,” Booth said.
“…It is joyful and funny, but it also takes place at a time in our world’s history that is beyond dissonant.”
“Harmony” will run through Oct. 6 and opening night is Sept. 15. A special performance will be presented Sept. 21 during the Season Opening Gala.
If you go:
o What: “Harmony — A New Musical”
o When: Sept. 6 through Oct. 6
o Where: Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St., Midtown
o Cost: Tickets start at $30
o Information: (404) 733-5000 or www.alliancetheatre.org/harmony