We all know the story of Harvey Milk. He was a hero to the gay community and met a tragic end because of it. Here is a story about his particular friendship with one Jewish butcher, the influence he had on one young girl, and his love of jellybeans.
San Francisco, 1986. Harry Weinberg (Adam Heller) is a widower. His wife Frannie (Cheryl Stern) pays him a visit from beyond. She’s the typical Jewish wife/mother. Loving, worrying, overbearing and she follows Harry around while the story is being told. Harry goes to the Jewish Community Center to fill up his days and this is where he meets Barbara (Julia Knitel), a young teacher who is looking for students for her writing class. Barbara longs to hear stories of the past. She wants to preserve the Jewish history which her estranged family had kept hidden from her, and hopes that Harry will share stories from the old days with her, but Harry too has secrets and sugar coats his life. He joins the writing class, and Barbara guides him to write what he sees, with the spirit of Frannie interjecting ‘don’t tell stories you haven’t told me’. One day Barbara gives him an assignment to write a letter to someone from his past, and this is how we get the title of this production, the letter to Harvey Milk, and the song that repeats the words ‘the night you died San Francisco cried’. Barbara is thrilled when she finds out that Harry was friends with Harvey Milk who was a major influence in her life, giving her the courage to tell her parents she was a lesbian. Harry is a tolerant and accepting man, but he feared Barbara being too open about her sexuality in the same way he feared for Harvey. Harry’s wife Frannie remains in the background through most of the scenes and sings songs like “What a Shanda” keeping this story light, bright and funny. When Harry finally tells the story he never told Frannie (or anyone else, for that matter) she seems to have been waiting for it all along and leaves in peace, and Barbara gets a small glimpse of the Jewish history she was protected from all her life and an understanding of her new friend.
The score by Ellen M. Schwartz, Cheryl Stern and Laura I. Kramer went from lively comic numbers to lovely ballads that are performed exquisitely by this talented cast. Julia Knitel has a big beautiful voice and Aury Krebs who has a small role as Barbara’s Ex Lover has a deep mystical tone that really left an impression. Heller and Stern have the ‘character’ voices that put the oy in gavalt and were perfectly cast in these roles in both look and sound.
The set (David L. Arsenault) included a beautifully replicated San Francisco style home with two levels and a classic large bay window. The small orchestra were well placed on the second level.
I don’t often say much about lighting (Christopher Akerlind) unless it’s actually playing a special role in a production, and perhaps it’s not fair, since lighting is intergral. A show could go on without a prop, maybe even missing an ensemble member, but not without lights. The lighting in this production stood out in a special way adding mood and beauty. If I didn’t know better I would think I was seeing the colors of the rainbow subtly changing the colors of the house. This combination was a stunning backdrop to this touching new musical, story by Lesléa Newman, with direction by Evan Pappas and Musical direction by Jeffrey Lodin. And if you’re wondering about where the Jelly beans fit in? I’ll leave this for you to discover yourself.
For tickets and more information visit the acornnowplaying website and check how to get available discounts at my website here -ThisbroadSway 3/1/18