“They were the Beatles of Germany.” – Barry Manilow
The looks, the moves, the sound, the infighting, the lust they inspired – they aren't as well known as The Beatles or New Kids on the Block or 'N Sync, but late-1920s German group The Comedian Harmonists could be considered the first boy band. And if the very good current production of Harmony, a new musical with music by Manilow and lyrics and book by Bruce Sussman, is any indication, they deserve that place in history.
]Based closely on real events, the musical follows the humorous vocal sextet from its formation through its surge in popularity, alongside the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich. (The show, at the Ahmanson, has been retooled since its 1997 La Jolla Playhouse production and its failed attempt to transition to Broadway.)
Spearheaded by Shayne Kennon as “Rabbi,” the ensemble is nimble both physically and vocally, which is especially noteworthy in the charmingly silly “Your Son Is Becoming a Singer” and the biting satire of “Come to the Fatherland!” (Kudos to the understated yet impressive choreography of JoAnn M. Hunter.) Fortunately, there's not a weak link in the bunch, as Manilow's music seems written to show off their voices.
The story gets a bit soggy near the end, but that can be forgiven: Unlike many boy bands, the reason for The Comedian Harmonists' demise isn't complicated or hard to guess – the group included Jewish members, and this was Nazi Germany.
Most boy bands break up past their expiration date. Sadly, the Harmonists were forced to exit while the crowds were still roaring.
Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn. Through April 13. (213) 628-2772, www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Facebook and Twitter: