Theater Reviews: Harmony, Slowgirl

Ahmanson Theatre | 135 N. Grand Ave., DTLA
Through April 13 |


Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman’s Harmony is one of the most thrilling and moving pieces of theater to come along in years, the true story of six men who form a singing group in Germany right before World War II. While they become international sensations, they also suffer the terrors of Nazi occupation. That’s not to say the show is a downer. By giving each of the men distinct personalities and goals, Sussman and Manilow easily get the audience to hold them close—hoping for them to survive in show business and in life. But by the time the show is over and we learn the fates of each of the men, it was easy to become overwhelmed with emotion for lives lived and lost, and loves lost and kept.

While the story takes a solemn turn, the music is at once rousing and powerful. Every performance is a showstopper, and the ballads—while sometimes starting tepid—build to such power that you could feel the audience wanting to jump to its feet and cheer. This is the accomplishment of the stunningly talented cast, with the standout being Shayne Kennon as “Rabbi” Josef. His heart-stopping tenor can raise the roof and break your heart in equal measure. He’s matched by an unequivocally phenomenal cast.

This world premiere musical deserves a place on Broadway. It is one of the greatest musicals of the decade. —Kevin P. Taft


Geffen Playhouse | 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood
Through April 27 |


In a superbly acted and handsomely appointed production, Geffen Playhouse imports artistic director Randall Arney’s 2013 Steppenwolf mounting of Greg Pierce’s gently moving Slowgirl, a smart and unforced drama about two lost souls searching for healing and redemption. 

In a classic two-handed premise, bookish, middle-aged Sterling (William Petersen) has left a damaged life in the States for a jungle hideout in Costa Rica. When his seemingly self-assured teenage niece Becky (Rae Gray) faces possible jail time for a party prank gone wrong, her family sends her to decompress with her remote, monkish uncle. Pierce boldly eschews plot pyrotechnics in favor of character and relationship, and C.S.I.’s Petersen is richly nuanced as Sterling, while Gray is wonderful as the troubled teen. 

Special mention goes to Richard Woodbury’s exquisite sound design for placing us in the middle of the jungle, where Arney’s lovingly crafted production leaves us glad we came. —Christopher Cappiello 

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