Celebrity Interview: Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman

Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman. Photo by Craig Schwartz

Between the two of them, singer-songwriter Barry Manilow and lyricist Bruce Sussman have written “206 songs together, four movies, three shows and a handful of commercials and movies.” So what’s left, you might ask? Well, only the very best for these two legends.

Fortunately, for Los Angeles, that takes shape in their new musical, Harmony: a true story about a sextet of Jewish and non-Jewish singers in Nazi-era Germany called the Comedian Harmonists that Sussman and Manilow feel a “mission” to tell. “Why we have never heard about these guys is the story of Harmony,” explains Sussman. And so, the two best friends have been working around the clock to bring Harmony to life onstage at the Ahmanson Theatre, downtown. During a rare break in the schedule, they sat down with Where to reflect on life, career achievements and the best of L.A.—Jessica Radloff

When did you first meet?  
Barry Manilow: 1821. [Laughs]
Bruce Sussman: We met in the Buchanan administration. [Laughs] No, it’ll be 42 years this May. We were very young.
Barry: Both of us wanted to write for theater. I was going to be an arranger, a conductor, a pianist, but never in my wildest dreams did I have any ideas
to become a performer.
Bruce: When he called me to tell me he was offered his first record deal, I said, ‘Doing what?!’
Barry: I said, ‘Singing,’ and he said, ‘You don’t sing!’
Bruce: He said, ‘I do now!’

What have you learned about each other over these last 40- plus years?
Barry: Trust.
Bruce: It’s a marriage—a collaboration in its highest form. Most collaborations fail because of trust, and I would say that’s true of marriage as well.

Here’s the biggest test: Have you memorized each other’s cellphone numbers?
Bruce: Yes, but I’m not going to tell you what his is! [Laughs] Barry’s cellphone number is probably the last number I’ve memorized. I talk to him a dozen times a day sometimes.

Harmony runs through April 13. What’s a typical day like?
Barry: There will be a lot of Xanax or Valium. Whatever comes first! [Laughs]

Sell us on Harmony. Why should visitors or L.A. natives see it?
Bruce: It’s a compelling narrative based on an absolutely true story, and it has a big score—eighteen original songs. We visit 28 locations. The narrative spans seven years. It’s a big, sweeping musical; and although it has its feet in the golden age, it’s also a modern musical as well.

Barry, you’ve written and composed some of the most iconic jingles in the history of pop culture. Which one is hardest to get out of your head?
Barry: “Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm Is There” and
“Stuck on Band-Aid” are the ones played most often and have lasted the longest.

And what’s your best advice?
Barry: If you do it because you love it, you have a better chance than if you do it to try and get a big hit record.

Where do you go to grab a bite after a performance?
Bruce: Canter’s Deli on Fairfax is always a must.
Barry: Spago in Beverly Hills. As for new restaurants, it’s Bucato in Culver City.

Barry, at which L.A. venues do you most enjoy performing?
Barry: There’s nothing that compares to performing at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s a magical evening for both the audience and the entertainer.

Where do you like to hear live music and see plays in L.A.?
Bruce: We’re heading to Disney Hall for the first time tonight to hear Tchaikovsky and I suspect that will be my new favorite place for music. Theater? Well, the Ahmanson, of course.

Ahmanson Theatre 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown, 213.628.2772
Bucato 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City, 310.876.0286
Canter’s Deli 419 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., 323.651.2030
Hollywood Bowl 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A., 323.850.2000
Spago 176 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, 310.385.0880
Walt Disney Concert Hall 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown, 323.850.2000

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