A Gay Icon Finds New Life in the Musical “A Letter to Harvey Milk”

Written by | Entertainment, Stage

A Letter to Harvey Milk

You’ve seen the documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk — and the Oscar-winning 2008 biopic Milk starring Sean Penn. Now there’s a musical.

The new stage show (based on Lesléa Newman’s short story of the same name), centers on an aspiring writer, Harry, tracking him from his origins as a widowed Jewish butcher in San Francisco. Once Harry decides to take a senior writing class, he finds himself faced with a class assignment to write a letter to someone from their past. Rather than write to his deceased wife, he chooses pen a letter to his former customer — Harvey Milk.

Once the assignment is complete, his letter changes both Harry and his writing teacher forever. In this touching and funny musical, we learn that Harry (who has no problem with his writing teacher being a lesbian) has somehow found it troubling that she wants to be out of the closet. But not for the typical reason: Because of his friendship with Harvey, he fears that she too will be harmed should she decide to be out and proud.

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Milk, of course, was a city supervisor (i.e. city councilman) in San Francisco in the late 1970s who famously urged closeted gays everywhere to come out to flex their political muscle and claim the rights due them as American citizens. His career was cut short when another city supervisor, Dan White, shot Milk and then-mayor George Moscone, leaving a vacuum in the struggle for equality that some say has yet to be filled. Eventually, White was convicted of the murders and served jail time before subsequently taking his own life. The assassinations also led to the political rise of Diane Fierstein, who became mayor after the murders.

A press release describes the musical as “a wonderful tale that places old-school, warranted fears up against the cultural shift – one that changes both of them forever.”

A Letter to Harvey Milk has many parents, with lyrics by Ellen M. Schwartz and additional lyrics by Cheryl Stern. The score is by Laura I. Kramer with book by Jerry James, Ellen M. Schwartz, Cheryl Stern and Laura I. Kramer and will be directed by Evan Pappas, with music direction by Jeffrey Lodin, orchestrations by Ned Ginsburg and casting by Stephanie Klapper.

Performances of A Letter to Harvey Milk begin in February, with an opening slated for March 6 at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row.

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Last modified: February 15, 2019