Gay rights icon Harvey Milk was murdered in 1978, but people refuse to let him go. A biography and Oscar-winning documentary in the '80s were followed by the successful play The Harvey Milk Show composed by Atlantan Patrick Hutchison in the 90s. Then, the dam broke with last year's success of the Oscar-winning feature film Milk, starring Sean Penn.
Around that time, local director Barbara Cole Uterhardt and her husband, actor Googie Uterhardt, approached Hutchison about bringing the production back. Sure enough, Patrick was willing to work with us, Googie says. And now The Harvey Milk Show is back at Onstage Atlanta through November 21.
They made some changes, added a song in that hadnt been in for awhile, says Googie. Then I auditioned and got the part.
The part would be the role of Harvey Milk, the gay communitys closest approximation of Martin Luther King, played by the only straight male actor in the entire production.
It was daunting, first just because he was a historical figure, but then, yes, being straight and taking that on, Googie says. But as I researched and got to know him better I got to realize that he was pushing for equality across the board: the rights of women, the rights of Asians, the elderly, he says. But still there is that going on opening night thinking, a lot of gay people are going to see this show and I hope that they dont say, Well whyd they give this to a breeder? [laughs] But nobodys harder on me than me as far as getting a performance right.
The pressure wasnt only on Googie, of course. Those familiar with Milks story will recognize certain characters, including his killer Dan White, played by Jeffrey Brown. Liberties are taken with other roles, such as the character of Jamey (played by Bryan Lee), who is a composite of Milks boyfriends.
Every actor really wanted to make sure that we portrayed this in reality as much as possible, Barbara says. So there would be times where wed have to stop rehearsal and say, What did actually happen here? or What did Dan White say?
But the essence of the story remains intact. And one crucial element of that story is something many more viewers are aware of since the production last came through town: his assassination.
People know its coming, says Barbara. Theyre waiting for it since the second act begins. And once Dan White has that gun out, you know its coming in the next few minutes.
But The Harvey Milk Show goes into more depth than the film in the aftermath of Milks murder.
The main point of the end of the show is to leave the audience feeling like everybody should be a part of a movement like this, whether youre a minority or not, whether youre a politician or not, if you are just somebody in Atlanta, you dont have to live in San Francisco, if you feel like something needs to be changed, you can change it, says Barbara.
The cast and crew have been spreading that message in their numerous appearances around town since the musical opened. They continue to visit area restaurants after every Saturday night performance for after-hours parties where they talk with the audience about the show and the man himself. They even brought Harvey back to life during last weekends Pride parade with Googie in character riding in a convertible alongside other activists and politicians.
My favorite word ever is hope. And its in the play so much, its in the last scene, its from one of his most famous speeches, says Barbara. The essence of the play is hope.
(Photo courtesy Onstage Atlanta)
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