Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus honors Harvey Milk with Midwest premiere
By Eric Street
Photo: Tony and Grammy award nominee Andrew Lippa wrote the words and music for I Am Harvey Milk
Here’s your chance to celebrate history while seeing it being made! Join members of the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra as they present the Midwest premiere of I Am Harvey Milk at the Victoria Theatre, 8 p.m. Saturday, June 7. This extraordinary musical theatre performance is a concert piece about American politician Harvey Milk by Tony and Grammy Award nominee Andrew Lippa. Lippa has written the music and lyrics for Broadway’s “The Addams Family” and “Big Fish,” as well as three songs for the Broadway production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
I Am Harvey Milk made its world premiere last summer in San Francisco and debuts in Los Angeles this July. Its New York premiere is scheduled for Oct. 6 at the Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. An emotional celebration of an authentic American hero, the work is part choral and part theater.
“When Milk famously proclaimed ‘hope will never be silent,’ he could never have imagined choruses of out and proud gay men would be singing for the causes he held so dear all across the country,” University of Dayton musicologist Sam Dorf said.
“It’s great for Dayton that we’re among such major cities as a co-commissioner,” Fred Poland, founder of the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus said. “It’s a real honor for us to be part of creating it. I Am Harvey Milk is just an awesome work of music.”
The lead role of Harvey Milk will be taken by Charlie Clark – who works extensively in theaters throughout the Midwest. No stranger to Dayton audiences, Clark’s previous performances here include The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Rocky Horror Show, Patient A and The Dayton Stories Project. All of those performances have been for The Human Race Theatre Company.
Harvey’s Mother is portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Southworth. Southworth is an active soprano soloist who has performed with the Cincinnati Opera, the Dayton Opera, the Dayton Philharmonic, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Pops under Eric Kunzel and Marvin Hammlisch.
Milk, who was a Navy submarine diving officer during the Korean War, became one of the first openly gay men elected to public office in the United States when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. His election inspired a generation of activists with his uncompromising call for gays to come out. In 1977, the idea of an openly gay person holding public office was unheard of, even in San Francisco.
Less than a year later, Milk was assassinated at City Hall along with Mayor George Moscone. His murderer, tried by a jury from which gays and ethnic minorities were carefully excluded, served only five years for the double assassination on the grounds that junk food had diminished his mental capacity (the famous “twinkie defense.”) Milk’s life became the subject of the 2008 Oscar-winning film “Milk.” The United States Postal Service launched a Harvey Milk commemorative stamp to honor him on his birthday, May 22.
Lippa’s 12-movement work begins when Milk is 11, then offers a song for each month of his tenure on the board. The work is non-chronological and impressionistic, even including a song sung from the point of view of the bullet that killed Milk.
Anne Kronenberg, his final campaign manager, wrote: “What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us.” As a result of his efforts, Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
I Am Harvey Milk will premiere on Saturday, June 7 at 8 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre located at 126 N. Main St. Tickets start at $20 and are available from chorus members or at the door. To preorder tickets, please call 937.228.3630 or visit ticketcenterstage.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Eric Street at EricStreet@DaytonCityPaper.com.