When I was a child my mother use to play the album to Milk and Honey incessantly, along with a couple of other Broadway shows. Not that I minded, the music was melodic and got under your skin. It has been at least 30 years since I have listened to that album and yet last night at The York Theatre, the lyrics and melodies came flooding back. This score has some truly beautiful numbers such as “Shalom,” “Milk and Honey, “ “There’s No Reason in the World,” “Let’s Not Waste a Moment” and “I Will Follow You.” Through in the anthems “Chin Up, Ladies” and “That Was Yesterday” along with the comedic “Hymn to Hymie,” and it is hard to believe this is a first time score.
Milk and Honey opened in 1961 and went on to play 543 performances. It was Jerry Herman’s first book musical in which he won a Tony nomination, as did the show.
The story centers on Phil Arkin (Mark Delavan), an American visiting his married daughter Barbara (Jessica Fontana). He meets Ruth Stein (Anne Runolfsson), a tourist travelling with a group of widows from the United States, who are hoping to catch husbands while touring Israel. The head matchmaker for the group Clara (Alix Korey), pushes them together, as does his daughter. There is a minor problem, in that Phil is already married, but has been separated for several years. The only reason he is not divorced is his wife will not give him a divorce and back then you needed a reason. Phil keeps this from Ruth on the advise of his daughter. Barbara, invites Ruth to go with them to her farm. On the farm Phil tries to talk Barbara and her husband David (Perry Sherman) into going back to states, but David is devoted to his country. His friend Adi (Jacob Heimer) longs to go to America, but his pregnant girlfriend (Abby Goldfarb) would rather see them get married. The widows come to visit, hoping to of finding suitable husbands, but all the men are married. Right before the wedding ceremony Phil tells Ruth, the truth and the two run off together. In Act two Ruth, realizing the consequences of living with a married man and runs off. Phil tries to bring her back. David, realizing that Barbara longs to go home, agrees to follow here anywhere. Clara accidentally meets Sol Horowitz ( John Little), a widower from Jerusalem. Ruth returns willing to live in “sin” with Phil, but Phil, realizes that it would be wrong to live with Ruth without being married. At the airport, the widows preparing to leave, Clara has married Sol and Phil and Ruth have their final moment where Phil is going to plead for a divorce.
Alix Korey steals the show with her hysterical delivery and comic timing. Anne Runolfsson shows star power with her perfect soprano vocals and her heartbreaking delivery. Perry Sherman has a gorgeous voice. He managed to sing with a perfect accent. This boy has the “It” factor in spades. Jacob Heimer has some wonderful stage moments and makes the most of his role as the cynical, commitment shy Adi. it is hard for me to judge Mark Delavan. I remember the gloriousness of Robert Weede’s voice. It was an almost perfect instrument. Mr. Devlavan has a wonderful sound, until he covers the resonance on some of the final notes in a stanza. I know it is a technique, just not one I am fond of. He did his best on “Like A Young Man.” Ari Axelrod, Joy Hermalyn, Joanne Lessner and Marcy DeGonge Manfredi made a fine ensemble.
The direction by Michael Unger was well done. The choreography by Yehuda Hyman a little on the line side. Originally this show had dances by Donald Sadler and utilized Tommy Rall. The music direction by JeffreySaver would have been helped by a better piano. More on that tomorrow.
For those who love theatre and a glorious score, do not miss this production. This was definitely a show that needed a second look.
Milk and Honey: The York Theatre Company, Saint Peter’s (entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue) Wednesday Feb. 1 at 7:00 p.m., Thursday Feb. 2 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Friday Feb. 3 at 8:00 p.m., Saturday Feb. 4 at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday Feb. 5 at 2:30 p.m.