TODAY   |  July 24, 2013

Barry Manilow: Musicals are easy, hits are hard

Pop music legend Barry Manilow and his creative partner Bruce Sussman are unveiling a new musical called “Harmony” about boy band that came together in Germany during the 1920s. Manilow comments that it’s easier to write music for theater than it is to create a hit pop song.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> manilow is the man that writes the songs that makes the whole world sing and he's been writing beautiful music with bruce sussman.

>> they are about to debut "harmony," a true story based on a boy band that went from street musicians to selling millions of records, yes, records.

>> hello, gentlemen.

>> good to see you.

>> what a thrill, i have to say, there's a lot of pinch me moments. a lot of people when they saw you, it took them way, way, way back.

>> the music these guys have made is some of the best music . tell us quickly how this musical came about. i know it's something you wanted to do many years ago.

>> when we met we wanted to write musicals together and then he screwed it all up.

>> you've been holding back bruce 's career.

>> barry has been a little busy.

>> when i started, that's what i wanted to do, then the record career took off and we never found the five years that you need to put into writing a musical.

>> you write, obviously, terrific music, how difficult is it to write copacabana or a song in a musical?

>> for me, bruce , too, it's easier to write for theater than a pop song . with a pop song all you've got is i love you or i miss you.

>> it's a blank page , a theater you have a character and situation and the song has to accomplish something.

>> this situation is crazy, tell us about the story that goes back.

>> it's an extraordinary story, six young men, germany between the wars, terrible time, record hyperinflation, millions of marks to buy a slice of cheese, followed by the great depression. 13 governments in 12 months, the place is in political chaos and these six, there they are.

>> the first boy band really.

>> these six young men created a new kind of entertainment. they merged the close harmonies of a group like manhattan transfer with the physical humor of the marx brothers .

>> we know everything about music and we have never heard of these people. and they were the beginnings of the kind of music we love today . well, this is the story of harmony, why we don't know them.

>> did they have the popularity you were saying of the beatles, huge groups, sold tons of records.

>> why don't we know the story?

>> you have to watch the musical.

>> give me a little bit.

>> they found themselves on the collision course with history. 1933 , new government comes into power that succeeds and, unfortunately, it's the nazis. several group members are jewish, several of them are not. how they confront that collision course with history is our second act.

>> you see this in a documentary and call barry and say, i found it.

>> i went to a pay phone on the street and called him. i was blabbering. i don't know how he made sense of what i was saying. i think i muttered somehow, i think i found it, the story we're looking for. and he took -- this is why we've been working together so long. he took the collaborative leap of faith . he said to me, i don't know what you're talking about, go get it.

>> can we talk real quickly, we opened with copa, let's close with it, that song, how did that collaboration work?

>> we went down to rio and we were at the copacabana hotel and there was copacabana napkins and towels. i said has there ever been a song called copacabana ? i don't think so. i went back to l.a. and new york and we wrote a song called copacabana .

>> do you have a favorite all-time song, barry ? i know you love them all.

>> for me?

>> yeah.

>> it would be "could it be magic."

>> from '74 to '83 you had three number ones, prolific time for you in music writing pop songs , but you're right at home with this musical. this is something special.

>> crazy about it, i love it.

>> tell us about the path.

>> we're leaving for atlanta on saturday. we're opening at the alliance theater in atlanta .

>> beautiful, beautiful regional theater .

>> are you two of the six boy band members?

>> yeah. beautiful cast, young people , beautiful.

>> great young director, extraordinarily talented.

>> you hope to bring it from atlanta ?

>> alliance theater , then los angeles , then after that it's up to the theater guys.

>> let's bring it to broadway, boys. we're so happy for you. thanks for coming on, bruce , we love you, barry . thank you.

>> thanks, appreciate it.

>> love you.