- CHARITY BENEFIT
As the New York Musical Theater Festival plays its last performances, I write a love letter to the show that should win best of the fest, “A Letter to Harvey Milk.” Touching, Jewish, gay, bitter, old fashion with heart and soul. Schmaltz served Kiddush style.
Harry Weinberg ( the vocally powerful Jeff Keller), a retired kosher butcher, is haunted by his dreams thanks to his writing teacher, Barbara (the amazing underused Leslie Kritzer). His long dead wife Frannie (the funny Cheryl Stern), has been called in to unravel his distress. As Harry tells Frannie what is going on, we journey back to the past and then the past that holds the layers of secrets.
Barbara tells Harry she is a lesbian after he finishes an assignment of writing a letter to someone from his past. When he tells Frannie, she sings the hysterical “What a Shanda,” with lyrics of “where would we be if on Noah’s Ark a Ewe came with a Ewe.” That is a perfect example of what this show does. It makes fun of itself exposing the hurt underneath the humor. Barbara is trying to find herself, not just through her Jewish past, but the gay past, to which Harry holds one of the keys. As the two bond, Barbara unlocks Harry’s shame of who he is and why he can befriend both her and Harvey Milk.
Directed by David Schechter “A Letter to Harvey Milk” at times seems too broad, but it sneaks up on your emotions and tugs on dormant feelings in silence, so you don’t even know you’re crying until you do. I am neither Jewish nor gay and this show touched me. I do thank my friends that are Jewish for teaching me some of the phrases as I would have been lost on a lot of the show if they hadn’t. Based on a 1987 short story by Lesléa Newman, retold by Jerry James, this book is broad, funny and touching. The music by Laura I. Kramer borders on old school but the melodies of the title song “ Love is a Woman” are beautiful. Lyrics by Ellen M. Schwartz are hysterical and you wonder if the audience will run or embrace. I watched as they stood in teary reverence.
“A Letter to Harvey Milk” played at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Look for this show to move.