Written by playwright Don Appell, this musical, a combination of borscht belt jokes and romantic comedy, concerns a bus tour of Israel by American widows in search of second husbands. Ruth, a businesswoman from Cleveland still suffering from a loveless first marriage, meets retired Baltimore builder Phil outside of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. They are immediately attracted to each other and, shortly thereafter, he takes her to visit the collective farm on which his daughter Barbara lives with her Israeli husband David.
However, all is not well in the land of milk and honey. While David loves his native land, Barbara is tired of trying to farm the desert. Their friends Adi and the very pregnant Zipporah are planning a wedding but seem to fight over everything including the ceremony. And when Ruth discovers that Phil is not divorced from his wife who lives in Paris, she has major qualms about getting into a permanent relationship with him. Along the way tour leader Clara Weiss, a widow from New York, also meets a man, a resident of Israel. The show’s most famous number is still the title song, which remains a rousing anthem, and delineates the pros and cons of living in the new country.
While the jokes may be hoary, Unger’s production has cut down on the show’s sentimentality and given it a sharp edge which elevates the material. As the heroine Ruth, Runolfsson is genuine, contemplative and sympathetic, while Delavan’s Phil is the strong silent type. They have the bulk of the songs and give lovely renditions of “There’s No Reason in the World,” “That Was Yesterday,” “Let’s Not Waste a Moment,” “As Simple As That.” Korey as the gossipy yenta Clara Weiss who is free with her advice steals every scene she is in and gets to sing the clever ode to her late husband, “Hymn to Hymie” as well as lead the hilariously staged number, “Chin Up, Ladies” which includes witty audience participation.
Jacob Heimer makes a very fiercely ferocious Adi, a member of the collective, while he is equally matched by Abby Goldfarb as his pregnant fiancée Zipporah. Jessica Fontana is impassioned as Barbara, Phil’s daughter, while an understated Perry Sherman as her husband David gets to sing the haunting “I Will Follow You.” Among the ensemble, Joy Hermalyn is a perky, animated Mrs. Perlman. Playing a number of ensemble roles, John Little is charming as Mrs. Weiss’ suitor, Sol Horowitz.
Music director Jeffrey Saver at the piano gives an excellent account of the lively score, tinged with Hebraic melodies. Choreographer Yehuda Hyman is responsible for the abbreviated Hora in this staged reading. The element that fails to work are the uncredited slide projections which provide atmosphere but are washed out when the lights are brought up.
Milk and Honey is the kind of musical that they don’t write much anymore, particularly on the subject of middle-aged love. However, Michael Unger’s Mufti production for The York Theatre Company gives an excellent and entertaining account of this musical which has never received a Broadway revival. Beautifully sung by leads Mark Delavan and Anne Runolfsson, they make this show seem more profound than its reputation would suggest.
Before the series concludes with Jerry Herman’s Dear World not seen in New York since 1969, to star Tyne Daly in the role that won Angela Lansbury a Tony Award (February 25 – March 5), the series continues with the Off Broadway revue, Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage (February 11 – 19).
Milk and Honey (through February 5, 2017)
Musicals in Mufti
The York Theatre Company at St. Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue, entrance on East 54th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-935-5820 or visit http://www.YorkTheatre.org
Running time: two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission