New oratorio celebrates Harvey Milk 

click to enlarge The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus
  • courtesy photo
  • The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus celebrates its 30th anniversary with the debut of a piece commemorating the life of Harvey Milk.

Gay Pride month in The City, always filled with memorable events, offers a haunting, highly anticipated new work this year — the world premiere of "I Am Harvey Milk."

The oratorio and theater piece, the highlight of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' 35th anniversary concert, is being presented Wednesday through Friday at the Nourse Theater in The City.

At the helm of the project is Broadway composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa ("Big Fish," "The Addams Family"), who hopes the piece is an honorable musical celebration commemorating Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, who was assassinated in San Francisco in 1978.

"I didn't want to do something with a traditional chronology to it," Lippa says of the production, in which he also stars alongside soprano Laura Benanti.

"For audiences coming to a gay men's concert, they would have a cursory knowledge of who Harvey Milk was and what happened. But I wanted to jump off into areas that hadn't been represented," he says.

So he wove together 12 movements — a childhood piece, followed by 11 months of Milk's time in office. But the movements are not told chronologically.

For instance, earlier moments in Milk's life leap into a November 1978 setting, when he dies. There, Lippa offers a bold turn in "I Am the Bullet." Sung by the chorus, the movement is told from the point of view of the bullet that shot Milk in the head.

Lippa explains that he was searching for perspective: "I wanted to write from the point of view from this inanimate object who said, like so many people, 'I have no allegiance, I have no opinion, I am just a bullet. I do what I am told.'

"And I found that somewhat of a metaphor for the way people go through the world," he adds. "You know, people who say, 'I am not very political,' and then they say, 'but ...' Yet they won't engage in the political process."

While the piece is far from simplistic, and unravels with depth and nuance, Lippa remained on course as he created it by staying authentic.

"The key to anything, in art and in life, is authenticity; actually just being yourself," he says. "And that journey can be the hardest. It goes back to Harvey. He was saying, 'Come out. Be yourself. Accept others. Accept yourself.' And once you can accept yourself, you can accept anybody."


I Am Harvey Milk

Presented by the S.F. Gay Men's Chorus

Where: Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday

Tickets: $25 to $65

Contact: (415) 392-4400,

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