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A Letter To Harvey Milk- musical review


Subsequent to a dramatic opening scene, Harry- a curious but kind-natured man, played by Barry James- finds himself joining a writing class that ends up unravelling into both passion and pain. A Letter To Harvey Milk tells the story of an assignment whereby he must write to someone he cared for in the past, of whom he chose gay rights politician and activist, Harvey Milk (much to the dismay of his late wife, Frannie).

While persuading the teacher, named Barbara and portrayed by Josselyn Ryder, in one of the preceding classes that he was not the literary type, she revealed her Jewish heritage, which became a similarity to ex-kosher butcher, Harry. In addition, her deep-rooted interest in his friendship with Harvey caused Barbara to discuss her lesbian sexuality, and how his opinions allowed her to be able to speak her truth. This combination of traits of minority sectors in society are brought together in a way that highlights the poignant importance of these historical narratives being told, and openly discusses the experiences of the characters with dexterity throughout.

Translucent sheets adorn the stage, and create a valuable effect, particularly for showing characters that are being spoken about, but are not in the scene itself. The audience begin by seeing Harry 'talking' to Frannie, played by Carol Ball, in his head (which he often does), while she is behind the curtain. As her opinions become more prevalent, she is brought onto the stage, and has a plethora of numbers that give the character meaning, but aren't overpowering in the role.

The score, with lyrics by Ellen M Schwartz, is primarily used to add musical description to the piece. Instead of being catchy or show-stopping, each track builds on the storyline in a fairly gentle manner, that works well with the concept and plot of the show, directed by Gerald Armin. Providing a more upbeat ending to act one, the company all prance around, singing 'Turning The Tables', which is a notable moment in the show. This is after another, called 'Love, Harry', that holds impact while displaying the collective vocals of the cast. Surrounding these, several are amusing, while others convey depth in the plot.

Barry is highly commendable in his role, holding proficiently for the duration of the show. While it was unsure what strength he was to display at the beginning, it appeared as if his confidence grew as it progressed and an additional dynamic was formed with having someone of an older demographic taking on the lead role. Carol's tones work well in conjunction, while Josselyn's operatic vocals provide a nice contrast.

Besides the slightly annoying squeaky chairs in the classroom, it is refreshing to see an uncommon musical like A Letter To Harvey Milk. With hope, bigger audiences will be intrigued to get a taste of what it brings.

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