A new concert piece about Harvey Milk by Tony Award nominee Andrew Lippa will have its world premiere in June in San Francisco to mark the 35th anniversary of the slain gay rights leader’s death.
Lippa said Monday that his I Am Harvey Milk — part choral, part theatre — will be performed June 27 to 28 at The Nourse Auditorium as part of the events celebrating the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus’s own 35th anniversary.
Lippa, who wrote the music and lyrics for Broadway’s The Addams Family and the upcoming Big Fish, will play Milk in front of the 300-strong chorus and the 30-piece orchestra. Tony winner Laura Benanti will add her soprano to the piece.
Lippa had initially been approached to contribute a short piece of music for the anniversary. “Some click went off in my mind. I didn’t want to write a five-minute piece. I wanted to write a 60-minute piece,” he said. “It felt like one of those ‘A-ha!’ moments.”
Milk became one of the first openly gay men elected to public office in the United States when he won a seat on the board of supervisors in 1977, inspiring a generation of activists with his uncompromising call for gays to come out.
He was assassinated at city hall, along with Mayor George Moscone, more than a year later. His life became the subject of the 2008 Oscar-winning film Milk.
Lippa has written a 12-movement work that begins when Milk is 11 years old and then offers a movement for each month in his tenure on the board of supervisors. The work is non-chronological and impressionistic, even including a song sung from the point of view of the bullet that killed Milk.
Lippa said a straightforward biography didn’t intrigue him, especially for a figure so well known in San Francisco. “What I was interested in was what I’m always interested in: plumbing the emotional life of the situation and the time and the people.”
After its premiere, the piece will be made available for choruses to perform nationwide and at least six have already signed up. Lippa hopes one day to do it in New York and at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
I Am Harvey Milk will be directed by Noah Himmelstein, conducted by Dr. Timothy Seelig, orchestrated by August Eriksmoen and will feature the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus accompanied by the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony.