Friday, January 18, 2008

Forgotten Broadway

There's a great article on the Jewish culture Web site NextBook about a largely forgotten musical.

While composer Jerry Herman is well-known for his scores of Hello, Dolly! and La Cage Aux Folles, there probably aren't too many people who can recall his first musical, Milk and Honey. It opened on Broadway in October 1961 and ran for 543 performances, and was nominated for five Tony Awards.

Writer Alisa Solomon describes the plot of Milk and Honey as an upbeat comedy about a pair of middle-aged American tourists who meet in Israel and fall in love with each other and with the 13-year-old Jewish state.

Solomon writes that it was "a sweet show in the old romantic mold of The King and I or My Fair Lady, but it’s most worth remembering today for the innocent way in which it captured the na├»ve and celebratory foundation of many American Jews' love affair with their putative homeland."

From Solomon's description, Milk and Honey sounds a bit like the movie version of Exodus, an idealized, overly sentimental portrait of Israel. Of course, it was written during a more idealistic time, when the connection between American Jews and Israel was stronger. Still, it sounds pretty interesting on two fronts: as a piece of musical theater history and for what it says about how American Jews viewed Israel in the early 1960s - a land of strong, tanned, brave pioneers making the desert bloom.

I've listened to some short samples of some of the songs, and I have to say, they don't sound very much like Israeli music. Solomon says that "for the most part, the show favors the pop conventions of Broadway’s heyday — pleasant, melodious tunes and perky lyrics, evident in the show’s love ballads and marches and in every musical Herman would go on to write."

A CD of the Broadway score did come out, but unfortunately, it's out of print. A used copy at Amazon is selling for $144.99. That's a bit steep for nostalgia!

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