A Letter To Harvey Milk Extended

Adam Heller as Harry and Julia Knitel as Barbara. Photo by Russ Rowland

Set to extend til June 30 at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre!

San Francisco. 1986. When Harry, a retired kosher butcher takes a writing class at the senior center he forms a unique bond with his young teacher, Barbara, who eventually comes out to him as a lesbian.

These two characters have very little in common on the surface of things, but when Barbara sets Harry a writing assignment their lives are irrevocably changed and the distance between them is closed.

Barbara asks Harry to compose a letter to someone from his past who is deceased. Instead of writing to his loving but somewhat overbearing dead wife Frannie, Harry chooses to address his letter to gay rights activist and San Francisco mayor Harvey Milk, who Harry knew briefly in San Francisco.

Barbara is surprised and fascinated by Harry’s choice to conjure California’s first openly gay elected official, and she sees her pupil in a different light. Through their semi-regular meetings and through writing and storytelling, Barbara comes to learn of Harry’s own past, his secret persecution and his struggles with tolerance. As Harry develops a friendship with Barbara, he is haunted by the ghost of his dead wife, Frannie, who tries to coach him in this new relationship — with some unexpected results.

A Letter to Harvey Milk is that rare thing: a musical written and composed by women. Cheryl Stern wrote the book and additional lyrics, based on a short story by Lesléa Newman. Music and lyrics are by Ellen M. Schwartz and Laura I. Kramer.

And while the musical is anchored around Harry, and the complex human being that lies beneath his lonely kosher butcher character, Barbara’s story — and her demand to be understood and accepted by her new, much older friend — comes to the forefront of the plot and provides a pleasing and relatable connection to today’s LGBTQ rights movement.

The song “Love Is A Woman”, performed by Julia Knitel and Aury Krebs

A Letter to Harvey Milk is a different kind of musical: it’s not loaded with jukebox hits or full of flashy costumes and fantasy.

This is the story of ordinary people whose lives are transformed by history and who, under pressure, decide to make a difference and carry those lessons forward. While Harry knows that Harvey Milk was a bearer of change, he always feared for his safety and worried that his fearlessness would have consequences. So he’s not quite sure what to do with Barbara’s revelation about her own sexuality, and the way she hopes to live her life as an out gay woman. This provides a crucial turning point in the plot, deepening the theme of acceptance as we see the characters try to bridge the gap between generations, religion, and sexual preference.

This is an enjoyable musical that is suitable for adult audiences of all ages and backgrounds. The songs are original, simple, and moving and the entire cast shines in their individual roles and as an ensemble. Julia Knitel as Barbara is fresh and appealing, presenting a type of character we haven’t seen on stage before: a lesbian who is still seeking her own happiness but who stops to lend a hand to someone very different from herself. We know that such women exist in real life but it’s very emotionally rewarding to see one on a New York stage!

Full of humor and poignant moments, A Letter to Harvey Milk is original musical theater that will put a smile on your face and possibly even move you to tears — in a good way. Briskly directed by Evan Pappas, with delightful live musical accompaniment, A Letter to Harvey Milk is a feel good-musical for our community, and an important reminder that hate and intolerance and death can all be bridged if the connection is strong enough.

“A Letter to Harvey Milk” runs through June 30, 2018.

Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre is located at 410 West 42nd Street

Performance schedule:

Tuesdays – Thursdays at 7pm; Friday and Saturday at 8pm;

Matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm; Sunday at 3pm.

Tickets are $79 – $99 and can be purchased at Telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200.