Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
In August 1928 an unknown but promising Berlin sextet, Melody Makers, signed a contract for performing at the Großes Schauspielhaus, a grand revue theatre on Schiffbauerdamm (after the Second World War the venue was re-named “Friedrichstadt-Palast”) in Eric Charell’s production of an operetta “Casanova”. Music for it was written by Ralph Benatzky who happily (and heavily) relied on pieces by Johann Strauß the Younger. Libretto’s authors were Ernst Welisch and Rudolph Schanzer.
The play, a light and rather undemanding piece whose main purpose was entertaining the audience – the reality outside the theatre, with the world heading for one of the worst financial crises in history and Berlin dreading the return of hyperinflation, was dark and demanding enough – did what it promised. The premiere night on September 1 1928 went well and the performance pleased the guests.
Not the least because of the singing talent of the six young men who had just joined the troupe at a daily wages of 16 Reichsmark per night. Eric Charell, a legendary Berlin revue producer of the time, hired them after another big revue-theatre, “Die Scala” rejected the group upon their very first audition in June the same year.
And it was Charell who suggested the band replace their name with something more original and perhaps a bit more memorable. They followed his advice: in late summer of 1928 Melody Makers changed their name to Comedian Harmonists.