Some of you know how much I love Broadway musicals, especially the “classic” shows. Some have stood the test of time less anachronistically than others. Some still sound fresh and relevant. Others are not so connected to current speech, values and politics. Listening to these shows requires Herculean translating rivaling most people’s efforts to read “The Canterbury Tales, if they’re not too offended or put off to drop the whole effort.
Jerry Herman’s Milk and Honey falls in this second group. Opening on Broadway in 1965, this show’s view of women, marriage and age are not, shall we say, au courrant. These problems will be seen by many as charming, especially if you’re a person of a forgiving nature.
But the show’s story of love and marriage is framed by a view of the relations between Israel and its neighbors that is infused by a sense of hope that simply doesn’t exist any more. But amazingly this anachronistic quality doesn’t generate a sense that the show is alien and irrelevant; instead, we feel a kind of nostalgic despair, a mourning for an ironic, buoyant hopefulness that in today’s political maelstrom feels naive, unaware, passé and deceptive, but also explains why the prospect of peace seems to constantly recede. Israel is a “state of mind we live in; we want it green and so it’s green to us.” Without a sense of hope the prospect of peace seems like a cruel mirage. “Where there is no vision the People perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) —Rabbi Kerry Baker