In the week leading up to opening night for the new musical production “Harmony” on Broadway, star Danny Kornfeld was doing his best to avoid the old theater parable: “break a leg.”
“I’m just immensely proud and relieved that the moment is finally here,” Kornfeld says from his apartment in New York, several hours before his call time at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. “I keep having these moments when I’m walking down the stairs of the subway or crossing the street, being extra cautious of my footing, to make sure that nothing gets in the way of me making my Broadway bow on Nov. 13 when we open,” he says. “I keep saying over and over to myself: ‘I can’t believe it’s finally happening.’ This is the thing that I have worked toward since I was a little kid. Going to theater camp at the JCC, doing community theater — what I set out to do in life is actually happening, and it’s one of the best feelings in the world.”
The actor signed onto “Harmony” three years ago, but the show’s journey to the stage has been significantly longer. Penned by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, the musical has been in the works, trapped in production limbo, since the ’90s.
Directed by Warren Carlyle, “Harmony” unfolds the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, a musical performance ensemble from Germany in the late 1920s. The internationally popular six-man group was forced to disband in the mid-1930s due to the rise of the Nazi regime. Kornfeld stars as “Young Rabbi,” embodying one of the group’s members and serving as the youthful counterpart to the show’s narrator, portrayed by Broadway veteran Chip Zien.
“I love that it’s a true story, but it’s one that no one’s ever heard about,” says Kornfeld, noting that the musical has been swimming upstream amongst familiar shows and adaptations of popular stories. “What’s really drawn me to this particular story is, I mean, I’m a Jew, getting to tell an inherently Jewish story,” he says. “Especially right now, it’s unfortunate how this show continues to remain so timely. It’s one of the most artful shows on Broadway in a very long time, which I have such respect for Bruce and Barry and Warren for creating, because it’s completely original.”
The “timeliness” of the show has been a constant description since the beginning of its off-Broadway run, which coincided with the start of the war in Ukraine.
“Einstein comes [onstage] at one point and says his famous quote of, ‘The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil. It will be destroyed by those who stand by and do nothing.’ And it got applause then, and it’s getting applause now as well,” says Kornfeld, noting that that line has been part of the show since its earliest iterations in the ’90s. “It’s a brilliant quote because it’s applicable to so many things but I think audiences now are, of course, interpreting that in our new current climate.”
The actor calls out a particularly tense moment in the musical, which places the audience directly within the depicted on-stage action. “There’s a moment of a true antisemitic hate crime, and I’ve had people say to me, ‘We were really unsettled by this because we weren’t sure if this was part of the show or not at first,’” Kornfeld says. “So I think everyone’s shoulders are just a little bit more raised right now in life, especially when it comes to Jewish stories.”
Kornfeld also stars in the coming-of-age comedy film “Tripped Up,” which premiered at the end of October. The actor’s part was upgraded from a day role to that of the film’s villain, after the original actor who was booked tested positive for COVID-19.
“What was supposed to be just one day ended up being my entire summer,” Kornfeld says. “You go through your career hearing stories like that from people being like, ‘Oh, this person got sick and then I had to step in.’ And then I actually became the person,” he adds. “And now it’s given me this propensity for believing that as I continue throughout my career, it’s true that anything is possible and anything can happen.”
Soon after wrapping “Tripped Up,” he booked a recurring role in “American Horror Story.” “I really have such a sense of peace with the trajectory of my career so far and with my life in general,” Kornfeld says. “When you look back and see all the ways in which different moments have led you to where you are, that is where I find my sense of spirituality.”
While he hopes to do more screen projects after “Harmony,” Kornfeld is savoring the present moment: delivering his big solo onstage, which he describes as “one of the greatest love ballad anthems written in the longest time for musical theater.”
“And I hope, I have a feeling, many kids from colleges in musical theater programs are going to be singing it after this,” he says.
“And that’s where I get choked up thinking about younger versions of myself and even me now being like: you are on a Broadway stage, center stage, getting to sing out a glorious high note. It’s the best, most powerful, connected feeling in the world.”