PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Tony Nominee Andrew Lippa, Songwriter of Broadway's Big Fish

By Michael Gioia
05 Oct 2013

Kate Baldwin and Norbert Leo Butz in Big Fish.
Photo by Paul Kolnik
I'd love to hear about I Am Harvey Milk and how it premiered on the day that the Supreme Court declared DOMA and Prop 8 unconstitutional. What was that like?
AL: Well, that is highly, highly improbable, isn't it? …And, something that you could never write in a film because no one would believe it. But we actually did premiere on the day that DOMA and Prop 8 fell by the Supreme Court's hand. Not only was it an astonishing response… Here we were in the city that the story was taking place — the Harvey Milk story took place in San Francisco — but we were also in the state where Proposition 8 had been struck down, and there I was at the center of it all, not only writing the music and lyrics, but playing Harvey Milk. So that experience — that particular day — was unforgettable. The response from the audience, of course, was extraordinary, but we got that response every day, and we've got such an enormous outpouring of support for this piece. I can neither say when nor where, but we will be doing it next year in New York City in a major venue in the city with an enormous number of people. I think we'll be doing it with about 400 people on the stage. It's going to be a one-night event. And, I expect to be playing Harvey Milk again, so I'm really excited about that.

Tell me about playing Harvey Milk. How close did you relate to him?
AL: Like every gay friend of mine, I have my own particular gay story, my own particular coming-out story, my own fears and my own issues of self-worth and dealing with the things I was told by society and my family that I had to overcome. To be able to portray a man who was our first gay elected leader, who was Jewish — as I was born and raised Jewish — who was 48 years old when he was assassinated, and I am 48 years old, and he lived in New York for many years, as I have… I felt very fortunate to be able to inhabit this gay hero and to be able to give him a musical life and perhaps add a little bit to the story. There are certain heroes in our culture who we will never stop talking about — in our culture at large. We will never stop talking about Thomas Jefferson. We will never stop talking about Martin Luther King. And, I don't think we'll ever stop talking about Harvey Milk — I hope we don't. It's partly my responsibility, as an artist and as a gay man, to add to the literature that says, "This is also a way to look at Harvey and Harvey's legacy and what Harvey had to say." What I ended up writing, and what I ended up able to convey, I think, in playing the part was that…it isn't only a gay story. Gay rights are human rights, and "human rights" is a story that affects everyone. That, I think, is one of the defining features of I Am Harvey Milk. It's a piece about humanity. It's not a piece about gay people. The recording should be available soon. We're in the process of mixing and editing now.

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)