York Theater’s Fabulous Production of MILK & HONEY

MILK & HONEY at the York Theater's Musicals in Mufti Series: Mark Delavan, Anne Runolfsson, and the hilarious Alix Korey.

MILK & HONEY at the York Theater’s Musicals in Mufti Series: Mark Delavan, Anne Runolfsson, and the hilarious Alix Korey.

On Saturday night I got the treat of a lifetime: the chance, at long last, to see Jerry Herman’s musical about Israel, MILK & HONEY, performed in concert at York Theatre as part of their “Musicals in Mufti” series.  It’s a no-frills production without elaborate costumes or sets, but that only adds to the fun.

If you’ve read my blog this far, you already know what a fan I am of Jerry Herman’s wonderful, uplifting music.  MILK & HONEY was his very first Broadway score, and there’s songs in it that I have adored for years.  However, I never saw a production of the show before.  That’s because it was on Broadway the year I was born, and for some unfathomable reason, has never been revived since.

And that, my friends, fits my idea of nothing less than a crime, because this show needs to be seen, not relegated to the theatrical history books.

I was astounded by the show.  Jerry Herman’s work is always upbeat, and even in his first attempt he nailed it.  And how!

The plot revolves around a group of adorable American Jewish widows who land in Israel for a tour, circa 1961.  One, Clara Weiss, played by the hilarious Alix Korey at the York, is there specifically in the hopes of meeting a wonderful guy.  Another, Ruth Stein (played by Anne Runolfsson), is the first to actually meet one, a nice man named Phil Arkin (Mark Delavan).  But there’s a problem: Phil hasn’t quite managed to divorced his estranged wife…

Yet there’s an additional “character” in this show, and it’s the pioneering spirit of  Israel.  Phil has an equally nice daughter living on a collective farm, and the going there is tough, but as the characters sing in the title song:

“What if the earth is dry and barren?

What if the morning sun is mean to us?

For this is a state of mind we live in,

We want it green and…so!  It’s green TO US!

For when you have wonderful plans for tomorrow somehow even today looks fine

So what if it’s rocks and dust and sand?

This lovely land is mine!”

I sincerely hope the York Theater finds a way to record a cast album of this production.  I’d love to see them propel this show onto Broadway, too.  It’s hopeful and positive, with a heartbreaking aside, and should be seen by as many people as possible.

I didn’t know until I read the notes in the program on Saturday that the main character in the show, Ruth Stein, was named after Jerry Herman’s own mother.  I saw that and almost began to cry.  It was Mr. Herman’s mom’s positivity that inspired so many of his most uplifting songs later.  When he came home from school one day and asked his mother why she was throwing a party, she replied, “It’s today,” a line that became the inspiration for the party song he wrote for Mame.  Ruth’s philosophies have been enhancing people’s lives all over the world through the music and lyrics her son was inspired to write, and I for one have gotten so much joy from his work over the years that I wish I could have met her.  Unfortunately, the real Ruth Stein Herman died before she ever saw one of her son’s shows reach Broadway, but if there’s any order to the Universe at all, somewhere, whenever the curtain goes up on one of her son’s productions, she’s humming along – and bursting with pride in the way her son pays tribute to her through his work.

Here’s  a link to the York Theatre’s website.  Berlin to Broadway by Kurt Weill is up next, followed by Jerry Herman’s Dear World, starring Tyne Daly, is next up as a “Musical in Mufti,” so New Yorkers, you won’t want to miss it!  I’ll be at both – with bells on.  Tickets can be found right here: http://www.yorktheatre.org/buy-tickets.html

Jerry Herman when he was first starting out.

Jerry Herman, about the time he wrote MILK & HONEY.

The original cast album of MILK & HONEY. York Theater: please record your cast's version, too!

The original cast album of MILK & HONEY. York Theater: please record your cast’s version, too!

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