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Actor hits all the right notes

Patrick Wilson's star continues to rise. The 23-year-old, who grew up in St. Petersburg, has a leading role in Barry Manilow's Harmony, which opened Oct. 19 to rave reviews at the La Jolla (Calif.) Playhouse.

Wilson, who graduated two years ago from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, has been the understudy to the lead in Miss Saigon and had a starring role in the acclaimed revival of Carousel in both national touring companies. He performed the Billy Bigelow role in May at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

A six-year labor of love on the part of Manilow and Bruce Sussman, Harmony is the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, a sextet comprising three Jews and three gentiles in pre-World War II Germany. Manilow hopes for a Broadway opening next season.

Wilson and Harmony were part of a feature article in the Oct. 27 issue of USA Today.

"What begins as a classic show-business tale about German street musicians (portrayed with charm and musicianship by Patrick Wilson and Danny Burstein and others) who rise to international fame has deeper implications," the story said.

Sussman, Manilow's longtime collaborator and lyricist, saw a documentary about the Comedian Harmonists and suggested a dramatization to Manilow. Putting the show together required painstaking research and historical accuracy.

The one surviving member of the Comedian Harmonists, 96-year-old former Rabbi Josef Roman Cykowski, who lives in Southern California, was too ill to do anything but give his blessing to the project. Of the 13 feature films that were made about the group, all but a 12-minute segment were destroyed by the Nazis.

The show opens with the group's Carnegie Hall debut in 1933, before the audience is whisked back to the Harmonists' humble beginnings in Berlin in 1927. The narrator, Roman (Rabbi) Cykowski, is played by Burstein. Wilson is Erwin (Chopin) Boots, a former brothel piano player. Rabbi falls for the gentile Mary (Rebecca Luker), and Chopin is won by the socialist Ruth (Janet Metz).

"I think Manilow has written the new wedding song in Starting Now," said Wilson's father, WTVT-Ch. 13 news anchor John Wilson, who along with his wife, Mary K., was in the audience on opening night.

Also in the audience was Marc Alexander, grandson of the late Harmonist Erich Collin, "who came to encourage the actors and brought along a family scrapbook," John Wilson said.

For Manilow, the move from pop to theater songs was easy and welcome. "All those baby-come-back-to-me songs have been good to me," he said. "I love doing it. But as a composer, the show allows me to go much further than a 32-bar chorus. You're not trapped in a form. Stephen Sondheim does it the best of anybody."

Manilow fans needn't worry. The romantic balladeer will continue to perform. He's scheduled to do shows Dec. 2 and 3 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.