You already know the exciting news — HARMONY: A NEW MUSICAL has opened in previews downtown at the Folksbiene. But what do you know about the band that inspired it all, the Comedian Harmonists?
We think they fit into a grand, pop-cultural tradition that wasn’t named until long after their government-imposed breakup. You’ve heard of boy bands like The Beatles, The Monkees, The Jackson 5, The Osmonds, the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, One Direction, and BTS… But what about the Comedian Harmonists?
The Comedian Harmonists were a group of German and Jewish singers that traveled the world on the strength of their harmonies and charisma. They preceded the bubblegum pop of later boy bands — they even preceded the popularity of the barbershop quartet, which is often thought of as the earliest type of boy band. But the most important elements here are the music, the humor, and the dreaminess factor — and the Comedian Harmonists had it all.
The band was incredibly popular with audiences across Europe. On their enormously successful first full length concert in January of 1930, Comedian Harmonist Ari Leschnikoff reminisced: “The shouting, the clamoring of the audience – I was flabbergasted. I shed tears of joy.”
The Comedian Harmonists appeared in 21 films, not unlike The Beatles (yes, they were rock and roll pioneers — but they were also a boy band!) and other popular musicians (i.e. Harry Styles of One Direction) that eventually took their talents to the big screen.
The Harmonists were banned from performing in Germany in 1934 because three of their six members were Jewish. Robert Biberti later described the energy around their final performance at home. “I don’t even need to describe the feelings we had when we performed,” he said. “We bowed and a hurricane erupted. The entire audience got on its feet; they cheered and tromped, and we stood up there like drenched poodles.”
Harmony: A New Musical falls into the grand tradition of stories about boy bands who arrived at the top of the world — and had to end it before it all came crashing down. Don’t miss it!