Imagine a country full of refugees who feel disenfranchised in this new land they wish to call “home.” The sentence reads like a current headline from a United States newspaper but in fact, it refers to Israel in the early 1960s.
Composer/Lyricist Jerry Herman and bookwriter Don Appell gained inspiration and insight from the fairly new country after travelling there for research on a new project. The result was their first Broadway show, Milk and Honey, which ran for 543 performances and earned Herman a Tony nomination.
York Theatre, the stewards of quality musical theater, have once again scored a delightful hit with this hidden gem from the archives. The minimally staged production is part of their long running, beloved “Musicals in Mufti” series.
The 1961 production tells the story of Phil Arkin (Mark Delavan) , an American, and Ruth Stein (Anne Runolfsson), a visiting widow who owns a dress shop. Arkin is in the midst of a rocky marriage and possible divorce. Although neither are looking for it, romance finds them in this enchanted world. Stein is accompanied by her fellow widow friends, Clara Weiss (Alix Korey), Mrs. Kessler (Marcy DeGonge Manfredi), Mrs. Perlman (Joy Hermalyn), and Mrs. Segal (Joanne Lessner.)
Much to the chagrin of Phil’s daughter, Barbrara (Jessica Fontana), Phil is reluctant to reveal his marital secret to Ruth while he imagines a permanent life for the two of them in Israel.
There are a number of witty and adorable moments in Milk and Honey. Korey steals the show with two numbers- the first, “Chin Up, Ladies” is an optimistic anthem she performs with her lady friends that speaks to the hope of remarriage. In Act II, “Hymn to Hymie” is a cleverly written song that Clara sings to her late husband, requesting his permission to have a dalliance with her latest catch.
Delavan brings his International Opera experience to the York stage, lending his rich and satisfying baritone voice to the lead role. Runolfsson complements him with her pleasant soprano vocals. Perry Sherman is also a stand-out. As Phil’s son-in-law, David, he offers a gorgeous ballad to Barbara, “I Will Follow You.”
Herman would go on to write major hits including Hello, Dolly (returning to Broadway this spring) , Mame, La Cage Aux Folles, and many others. His songs are undeniably poignant and joyous and it is difficult to imagine American Musical Theater without his contributions. Fortunately, Director Michael Unger and Music Director Jeffrey Saver have recognized and honored this legendary virtuoso with this production of Milk and Honey– yet another top-notch staging at the York.
Milk and Honey. Now through Sunday Feb 5th at The York Theater– 619 Lexington Avenue (54th street between Lexington and Third) For tickets and information, click here.