Entertainment Music

‘Concord’ Evaluate: Barry Manilow Writes the (Broadway) Songs

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How unusual and, in the long run, how ironic {that a} German singing group, based within the chaotic final years of the Weimar Republic and forcibly disbanded lower than 10 years later, ought to name itself the Comic Harmonists.

But on the proof of the Barry Manilow musical “Harmony” — for which, sure, he wrote the songs (alongside together with his longtime lyricist, Bruce Sussman) — the internationally well-known all-male group had the “harmonist” a part of their title good. As rendered by Manilow in an typically skillful, surprisingly theatrical rating, the boys’s tightly spaced six-part singing, typically harking back to barbershop, typically jazz, typically operetta on LSD, is so dense as to appear geological, its pitches heaving and twisting towards some new stratum of sound.

However comedians? No. Neither the fellows nor the grim and finally bludgeoning present have a present for levity.

You would possibly surprise why the present, no less than, ought to. Although its title makes it sound as if “Concord” could be calm and golden, its story isn’t an uplifting one. The group, consisting by likelihood of three Jews (one among whom marries a gentile) and three gentiles (one among whom marries a Jew), inevitably falls sufferer to the antisemitic restrictions of Nationwide Socialism. Quickly the brotherhood, symbolized in sound by their questing choral closeness, goes bitter — a narrative that, to be efficient, wants vivid distinction so we all know what’s been misplaced.

However the model of “Concord” that opened on Monday on the Ethel Barrymore Theater, after a potholed, decades-long trek to Broadway, makes a beeline for the bleakest elements of the story after which bleakens them additional. Sussman’s script, relentlessly centered on historic trauma, takes affordable dramatic license with the group’s precise historical past, however solely in a single path: darker. And although Warren Carlyle’s manufacturing is sensible and slick, it traps the story in a figurative and literal glassy black field (by Beowulf Boritt) from which solely pathos escapes.

Even the opening scenes, which could have been upbeat, really feel booby-trapped by the invention of a narrator trying again from 1988. He’s Rabbi (Chip Zien), the final surviving Harmonist, who now lives in California, suffering from guilt. The try and lighten him by making him speak like a latter-day Tevye, with Yiddish inflections (“A cockamamie title, no?”) and cute codger phrases (“We had been scorching as horseradish”), feels each distracting and patronizing. As his twinkliness turns to anguish — and regardless of Zien’s forceful efficiency — the prominence of the character turns “Concord” right into a passive present about reminiscence on the expense of the particular motion.

The time might be higher spent individuating the six-headed protagonist. As it’s, every Harmonist will get only one or two traits. The youthful model of Rabbi (Danny Kornfeld) is indecisive. Harry (Zal Owen) is a musical genius. Chopin (Blake Roman) is a hothead. Erich (Eric Peters) has secrets and techniques and a saying for each event. Bobby (Sean Bell) is all about enterprise. And Lesh (Steven Telsey) — properly, the authors appear to have run out of traits. He’s simply Bulgarian.

When working with the music, that’s adequate; mixing, not standing out, is the hallmark of the type. (Manilow’s vocal preparations, written with John O’Neill, the present’s music director, are marvelous.) However because the story spreads from unison group mechanics to separate life conflicts, the feel thins to the purpose of flimsiness.

Provided that Younger Rabbi is so outstanding within the again story, it’s an issue, for example, that his courtship of the gentile Mary (Sierra Boggess) is generally a mixtape of banalities. (“That is our time!”) Solely Mary, in selecting a life that will embrace persecution and exile, carries sufficient battle to be meaningfully characterised in track. Manilow, and Boggess, come by, with the attractive “And What Do You See?”

The opposite semi-fleshed-out story has an excellent larger drawback than lopsidedness. Chopin, whose actual title was Erwin Bootz, marries Ruth, a Jew (and a firebrand Bolshevik as well). That we by no means actually perceive the strife between them could also be the results of conflation: Ruth (Julie Benko) is a composite of three of Bootz’s precise wives. No surprise she’s blurry — and worse, sacrificial. I really feel I have to spoil a plot level by revealing that, regardless of the overwhelming environment of tragedy all through, this invented Ruth is the one character who doesn’t survive the battle, a tensioning comfort that can be a purple herring.

Wherever it may possibly — within the plot, within the characterizations and within the typically bombastic orchestrations for a closely synthed and amped orchestra of 9 — “Concord” wields a truncheon as an alternative of the needle it wants. It may need helped if the supposedly comedian numbers had been truly humorous, however neither Manilow and Sussman nor Carlyle excel at that right here. The lighthearted appeal track (“Your Son Is Turning into a Singer”), the slapstick centerpiece (“How Can I Serve You, Madame?”) and the second-act opener (“We’re Goin’ Loco!” — which options the Harmonists and Josephine Baker in a “Copacabana”-like samba) are all manic duds.

Solely when the story provides a track hook that can be a dramatic one does the try at humor repay, partially by providing Sussman alternatives for sharp lyrics. The title quantity introduces the musical type of the present but in addition the characters’ beliefs. (“On this joint/All encounters with counterpoint/Finish in concord.”) And an anti-Nazi satire known as “Come to the Fatherland,” completely staged by Carlyle as a human marionette present, has the two-sided stickiness of actual wit: “The Führer has decreed:/In the event you’re Anglo-Saxon/And your hair is flaxen/We would like you to breed!”

Nonetheless, “Concord” is not any “Cabaret.” It doesn’t take the chance of letting you suppose for your self; every thing is a billboard. The Nazis — together with some who scream “Save Germany from the Jews” within the aisles of the theater, an pointless contact — are generic slimeballs. The Harmonists are over-animated, smiling for all they’re value, besides after they’re livid or harrowed. (Having missed an opportunity to change historical past in 1935, Rabbi sings the bathetic “Threnody” 53 years later.) The wives are uniformly noble, going through deprivation and worse.

None of that is as attention-grabbing as what truly occurred. The lives of the Harmonists had been principally full and lengthy. (Roman Cycowski, the true “Rabbi,” made it to 97.) As a substitute of miring the present in horrified reminiscence, what “Concord” may need thought of with much less contortion is the lodging we make to historical past because it occurs. I want it had adopted by on the query Mary asks whereas deciding whether or not to marry Rabbi: “Inform me how will we dwell/In a world that’s crumbling away/And be blissful, as we’re at present?” However we by no means see that happiness.

As a substitute, like plenty of present theater that hitches a experience on the Holocaust for dramatic propulsion, “Concord” makes guilt and anguish its by line, unintentionally suggesting that survival and the solace of music are someway undeserved. Fortunately, after a tough experience of a night, the finale — an intensely chromatic track known as “Stars within the Night time” — provides beautiful proof on the contrary.

On the Ethel Barrymore Theater, Manhattan; harmonyanewmusical.com. Operating time: 2 hours 35 minutes.