After performing in Harmony, Chip Zien cannot feel his legs. "It's an out of body experience," he tells Playbill on the new musical's opening night. At 76 years old, in his 20th Broadway show, Zien—who plays the leading role of Rabbi in Harmony—still feels like it is his first night on stage. "I've learned nothing...I am nervous. I'm incredibly excited."
The new and original musical Harmony is based on the true story of The Comedian Harmonists—an internationally famous ensemble of six young men from Berlin whose heavenly harmonies and musical comedy antics sold millions of records, made dozens of films, and sold-out the biggest theatres around the world in the 1920s and '30s. The show features a score by Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award winner Barry Manilow, with lyrics and book written by Drama Desk Award winner Bruce Sussman, as well as direction and choreography by Warren Carlyle.
Excitement was palpable and widespread amongst the cast and creative team on the November 13 opening night red carpet at the Barrymore Theatre. But unlike Zien, many individuals are just beginning their careers on Broadway. Twenty cast members—including five of the six Harmonists— are making their Broadway debuts. Sean Bell, who plays Robert 'Bobby' Biberty in the show, describes the air backstage as electric. "It's a dream come true," he says about his Main Stem debut. "I feel shot out of a cannon, but in the best possible way."
Danny Kornfeld, who plays Zien's character as a young man, expresses the privilege he feels to get to step into the shoes of two amazing men in his Broadway debut. "Rabbi Joseph Roman Cycowski, who I play, lived to be 98 years old and lived this incredibly full life, and to get to have my spirit associated with his and to have my spirit associated with Chip Zien's is one of the greatest honors," he says. "I want to do both of those people proud."
"They were truly magnificent artists," says Steven Telsey, who is making Broadway debut as in the show Asparuh 'Lesh' Leschnikoff. "They were as famous as the Beatles for their time...and no one knows their story." Bell chimes in. "It's such a tragedy that they've disappeared from memory," he adds. "I hope that bringing them to Broadway will bring them back."
Playbill's Director of Social Media Jeffrey Vizcaino had the cast of Harmony prove their skills with a little harmonizing on the red carpet. Check out the results in the video below.
Director and Choreographer Carlyle acknowledges the importance of the Comedian Harmonists' story, and the responsibility involved in bringing their true story back to life. "These are real people; these fellas really existed—flesh and blood," he says. "I feel the pressure to really deliver their truth as much as I can."
Julie Benko, who plays Ruth, feels that the stories of the women in Harmony are just as powerful as those of the men. "I've had so many women who have seen the show in previews, who've written to say that it's been very meaningful to see me representing them on stage in this way," she shares. "[Throughout the process], I wanted to make sure we got her [Ruth's] strength, and her vulnerability, and her humor...and just do justice to the women who really lived in history."
"It's magnificent," says Allison Semmes, describing what it feels like to originate the role of famous French performer Josephine Baker in the show. The actor has played real-life people in musicals before, including iconic performer Diana Ross, but admits that there is always a pressure to do them justice. "There's only one Josephine Baker, but we can only bring our own interpretations and our own [versions] of their essence," she says. "They're going to be them and we're going to be our best version of them—so that takes off the pressure a little bit."
"There's always a pressure because you want to get it right, but there is no right," says Sierra Boggess. "The right way is just to tell the story." Boggess, who plays Mary in the show, speaks to the real-life woman she portrays. "I talk to her all the time and invoke her every night," she says. "I just always hope that I'm honoring her and I'm telling her story in the best way I can."
Like Boggess, Zal Owen has formed a strong connection with his character, the music group's leader Harry Frommermann. "This person who I did not know prior to this process has become a really important person to me," says Owen. "I have connected with Harry's descendant who shared about 20 letters that Harry wrote to his family in the 1950s—one of them is in my dressing room on the wall," he adds. Owen could not feel more grateful to take Harry on stage with him every night to tell the incredible story of Harmony, saying: "It's such a blessing to be able, in this moment, as a someone who is very proud of my Jewish heritage...to share this story."
Click through the gallery below for opening night red carpet photos of the Harmony company and celebrity guests, including Sutton Foster, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Micaela Diamond, Jackie Hoffman, Tovah Feldshuh, and more.
Harmony additionally features Eric Peters as Erich A. Collin and Blake Roman as Erwin 'Chopin' Bootz —both making their Broadway debuts as the remaining two Harmonists— as well as Andrew O'Shanick as Standartenführer. The cast also includes Zak Edwards, Dan Hoy, Bruce Landry, RhonniRose Mantilla, Daniel Z. Miller, Benjamin H. Moore, Matthew Mucha, Constantine Pappas, Kayleen Seidl, Kyla Stone, Bronwyn Tarboton, Kate Wesler, Stuart Zagnit, and Lee Zarrett.
The creative includes scenic designer Beowulf Boritt, costume designers Linda Cho and Ricky Lurie, lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, sound designer Dan Moses Schreier, wig and hair designer Tom Watson, music director John O'Neill, music coordinator Michael Aarons, and production stage manager Scott Taylor Rollison. Media design is by batwin and robin productions. Orchestrations are by Doug Walter, and casting is by Jamibeth Margolis.