I know that sometimes in this blog I sound like I'm saying, "They don't make 'em like they used to." Well, I take it all back. A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK is made like they used to -- in third rate musicals of the 1950s. We had songs about the joys of Yiddish (where was Molly Picon when we needed her?) and a song and dance at a delicatessen. We had the nagging Jewish wife played with its usual shrillness (Where was Nancy Walker win we needed her? She knew how to underplay these roles, as in DO RE MI). And a kind Kosher butcher who just happened to be friends with Harvey Milk and who eventually divulges that he had a concentration camp romance with a gay Jew. All those ersatz Jewish numbers were better done half a century ago in I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE, MILK AND HONEY, DO RE MI, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF with a little BENT thrown in for good measure. The score sounded like Bock and Harnick on a very bad day. It was cringe-making. My Jewish spouse was appalled. Piled onto this was the martyrdom of gays seen through the eyes of a preachy lesbian. The show ended with an anthem in front of the rainbow flag. It was mawkishly sentimental as was everything else in the show. And all so dated. The show took place in 1986, but its heart and soul were back in the 1950s. The humor was heavy-handed, the Jewish stereotypes offensive. This show must have been sitting in someone's trunk for a long time and should have stayed there. What a parade of stereotypes I thought died long ago!
Jeff Keller maintained his dignity as the butcher and sang well. Cheryl Stern as the ghost of his wife played her part as if she were performing in Madison Square Garden instead of a 150 seat playhouse. It was over the top, shill, and shameless. Leslie Kritzer sang well as the lesbian who is trying to teach the butcher to become a writer. The small supporting cast entered into the proceedings without demonstrating any embarrassment. The director, David Schecter let the show sink into tastelessness and sentimentally whenever possible.
Cringe-making. And so dated!
A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK. Book by Jerry James; Music by Laura I. Kramer; Lyrice by Ellen M' Schwartz. New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Pershing Square Signature Theater. July 23, 2012.