A mostly unknown actor in New York City, Danny Kornfeld first garnered lots of attention when he took on the pivotal role of Young Rabbi in the Off-Broadway production of Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman’s Harmony. And he has gained even more praise since the show moved to Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre in October.
TheaterMania recently spoke to Kornfeld about his involvement with the show, his relationships with Manilow and actor Chip Zien (who plays the older version of his character), the unusual research he did for the part, and what the show means to him as a Jewish man.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you get first involved with the show?
My first audition was in 2019, right after I graduated college. The feedback was I too young, I think because Chip and my parts were combined at that point. Then the pandemic happened, and then, at some point, they decided to separate the two characters. So, I eventually got another audition, but this time, it was just for Young Rabbi.
I went in about five times, and at the very final audition, I had to do a chemistry read with Sierra Boggess. I didn’t know it would be her until I went into the room. I was freaking out! I had always revered Sierra as Christine Daaé and Ariel. But with her presence, I also realized they intended life for the show on Broadway and that got me excited. When that last audition was over, I had a good feeling about getting the role.
Are you now or have you ever been a Fanilow?
From my aunts and my mom, I knew his hits, but I was not well versed in his canon. Once I got cast, though, I studied up, and now I think “Weekend in New England” is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. And I am definitely now a fan of Barry Manilow, the person. From the beginning, he has been especially kind, giving me lots of big hugs and great compliments.
What kind of research did you do about the Comedian Harmonists?
There’s an excellent book on them by Douglas Friedman; it was a bible to all of us. We all also watched the documentary on the group and read a lot of interviews. But the best thing for me was I spent two weeks in Berlin before we came to Broadway. I visited the apartment where the group rehearsed; I went to Mary and Rabbi’s apartment; I even went to a synagogue where they might have been married. It was so important to find my own connection with the place. That was the most beneficial “research” I did.
Can we talk about how you built your relationship with Chip?
One of my favorite things about doing this show is the friendship we’ve developed. We sometimes go out to dinner between shows, and he has the best sense of humor and the best stories. During our original rehearsals, when my character wasn’t onstage, I’d sit on the front of the floor and watch him, because I wanted to try to take on his inflections and mannerisms. And one of the coolest things we did in rehearsals was that we’d swap ourselves in and out of scenes; one time he did the scene where Young Rabbi proposes to Mary and it was so incredible! I would be so grateful to just have the great career he has.
How different does Broadway feel than Off-Broadway?
My impression until now was that if I was on Broadway, I would be stepping into something so big and so new that I’d have impostor syndrome. But with Harmony, I feel very safe and confident and comfortable because we all built this together downtown. So, every night, I feel like I’m with my family.
Obviously, this is a difficult time to perform this show. How has it affected you personally as a Jewish man? And how do you think the situation in the Middle East has affected audiences?
There are lines from the show that people have quoted to me at stage door, thinking they were just added, and I always say, “that’s been in the show for 30 years.” For better and worse, this show remains timely and relevant. You get to be reminded of all the adversity that Jewish people have faced for so many years, but you also get a celebration of Jewish beauty and resilience as well, such as in the wedding sequence. Ultimately, for me, I think it’s both a privilege and a duty to be able to tell this Jewish story in this capacity right now.