Andrew Lippa on ‘I Am Anne Hutchinson’/’I Am Harvey Milk’ at Strathmore on 4/23 & 24

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Andrew Lippa is bringing I Am Anne Hutchinson/I Am Harvey Milk to The Music Center at Strathmore this Saturday, April 23, 2016 at 8 PM and on Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 4 PM. Andrew tells us about writing both works and takes us into the rehearsals of this large, but very exciting production.

When did you write I Am Harvey Milk and where was it first performed? Why was it so important to you to honor Harvey Milk with this work? 

Andrew Lippa. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Andrew Lippa. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

I was asked by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus to contribute a 5-minute piece about Harvey Milk. I was flattered but wanted to do more. So, I asked: “Can I write a 60-minute piece?” The SF Chorus, along with the six other co-commissioners agreed and I Am Harvey Milk was born. It was premiered in San Francisco on June 26, 2013. Up to that point in my life I’d never seriously written about gay people or really examined how I felt about being gay. This piece was my opportunity.

At Strathmore you are performing two works together: I Am Anne Hutchinson with Harvey Milk. When did you write Anne Hutchinson? Tell our readers who she was and why she, like Harvey Milk, compelled you to honor her with this tribute.

I Am Harvey Milk is an hour-long work – not full-length enough for a whole evening. In contemplating what to do to lengthen it I considered making it longer but found it just didn’t want to get any longer.

The response to the piece was far beyond anything I’d imagined for it and, after almost 20 subsequent productions, the following question arose: What other story might I pair with Harvey’s that would not only create a full-length work but would have equal power, allowing me to make a broader statement about equality, human rights, and facing down the status quo?

Enter Anne Hutchinson. Well, actually, enter Barnes and Noble helped me many years ago when looking for ideas as I stumbled across the epic poem The Wild Party. That discovery was fortuitous. I made a musical of that poem which helped define me as a younger artist. Then, years later, I encountered a book on the discount shelves of a Barnes and Noble with a title I can’t recall but was close to 10 American Stories You Should Know But Don’t. In it was a brief history of Anne Hutchinson.

The I Am Harvey Milk cast has a men’s chorus, a soprano, a tenor, a boy. A piece about Anne Hutchinson could feature a soprano to play Anne, a tenor to play Governor John Winthrop, and a boy to play one of Anne’s many children. Bingo

Why are these two works so perfect to perform together and how will it work?

350 years – the time between Anne and Harvey – is nothing when it comes to social change. Change is slow. Women still don’t earn what men earn.  Gay rights are still violated and legislated away in our country. If you believe that progress is a relay race – a baton handed from person to person – then there is no Harvey Milk without Anne Hutchinson (and, obviously, 100’s of others in between). Our country wasn’t even a country in 1637 when Anne Hutchinson met her fate for teaching women bible stories in her home. It took until 1978 – over 200 years of a nation’s existence – for Harvey Milk to be the first openly gay politician elected to major office. Anne and Harvey, in my mind, have always belonged together.

Have you made any changes to Harvey Milk for this performance?

The entire evening is staged, in costume, with projections. All of this is to serve the notion that the new piece: Anne/Harvey – is a theatre piece, not a concert. No one has seen what we are doing with I Am Harvey Milk. The material is the same but the handling of it is brand new.

Kristin Chenoweth and Andrew Lippa performing in "I Am Harvey Milk.' Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Kristin Chenoweth and Andrew Lippa performing in “I Am Harvey Milk.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

You have a huge cast and many musicians appearing in this production. What are rehearsals like and where are you holding rehearsals? 

Rehearsals are wonderful. I love being an actor. I love getting to play with Kristin Chenoweth and our company all day. We rehearse at The Music Center at Strathmore’s rehearsal spaces.

What have been some of the challenges you, Music Director Joel Fram, and Director Noah Himmelstein are having in rehearsals?

We have to keep from crying every day. So far, many days have brought up something deeply emotional from us or from one of the actors that we will discuss in the room. The piece is about being seen, being heard, feeling a part of the community, accepting God and accepting those who don’t accept God, demanding equal rights. It’s deep stuff – along with a lot of laughter and joy the piece offers – and every day is a full emotional plate.

What has surprised you most in rehearsals and what has brought you the most joy?

The most joy is always the first orchestra read-throughs. That’s when I get to hear the orchestra play the music for the first time after our wonderful orchestrator August Eriksmoen has written the orchestrations. 36 players!! You can’t get that on Broadway.

You played and sang the role of Harvey Milk when the work premiered and you are back performing the role again. What has changed about your feelings for Harvey Milk and what has changed in your performance?

I now play Governor John Winthrop in the first act. He’s the buttoned-down leader and founder of Massachusetts. Playing Harvey Milk after an hour of John Winthrop is a 180-degree turn around that unlocks play, joy, light. I think my approach to Harvey is more playful than ever.

Kristen Chenoweth has joined you for this performance. What do you enjoy about working with her and what do you admire about her performance? What does she bring to the role?

Andrew Lippa and Kristin Chenoweth. Photo by Margot Schulman.
Andrew Lippa and Kristin Chenoweth perform a duet from ‘I Am Harvey Milk’ at Kristin’s January 2016 concert at Strathmore. Photo by Margot Schulman.

First, it doesn’t hurt that Kristin is among a handful of the greatest singing actresses the theatre has ever produced. There’s that. Then, she and I have been good friends for almost 20 years. Further, while she’s known for her comic brilliance she’s challenging herself here to do something different, to bring not only her radiance but her darkness. She is powerful beyond measure.

Will any of your readers remember when Mary Tyler Moore started playing “serious” parts? Ordinary People? Everyone said, “But she’s so FUNNY on her TV show!” and then she blew us all away in that moving film. Kristin is doing something like that.

Why is it so important that the younger generation know about Harvey Milk and Anne Hutchinson? What do these two works have to say to today’s audience goers?

If we don’t know our past how will we ever face our future? A progressive woman facing a towering Right Wing? A gay community faced with diminished rights and marginalized for their sexual orientation? These are contemporary issues still. Our work on this piece is trying to remind all of us to be kinder, to be better, to choose love first.

Are there plans to record this performance and are there future performances planned? 

No plans yet to record. No future plans we can announce. But we welcome generous patrons who want to sponsor recordings!

What do you want audiences to take with them after attending I Am Anne Hutchinson/I Am Harvey Milk?

I hope they are inspired to go out and face the world with renewed compassion. I hope people will face their neighbors and themselves with acceptance and put down their anger and fear. I know that’s probably too much to hope for in one night at the theatre. But it’s happened to me!

 From Strathmore:

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Centuries apart, two reluctant prophets stood up for equality and changed the world. This groundbreaking World Premiere Concept Opera combines song, movement and powerful storytelling, bringing to life the emotional tales of two American icons.

Starring Broadway luminaries Kristin Chenoweth and Andrew Lippa, this stunning production magically weaves together the lives of 17th century women’s rights activist Anne Hutchinson and 1970s’ gay rights leader Harvey Milk. Separated by time, space, and culture, these two heroes were each lit from within by the same fierce passion for human dignity and devoted themselves to the fight for justice. This new, riveting theatrical work celebrates courage in the face of daunting odds, shining across the centuries from the hearts of two good people who achieved greatness.

The performance – scored for full symphonic orchestra and a cast of 140 actors and singers – celebrates two trailblazing stories of struggle, joy, passion, and ultimately, triumph.

Strathmore is pleased to partner with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the National Women’s History Museum, who will benefit from the proceeds of these performances.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.

1 COMMENT

  1. I can’t wait to join Andrew Lippa in July in Denver at GALA where 1,000 gay and lesbian singers will take the stage to perform I Am Harvey Milk. I sang at the premiere with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. It’s going to be remarkable.

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