The Working Theatre, the Off-Broadway company devoted to plays about workers and workplace themes and issues, will celebrate lyricist Yip Harburg, the songwriter who embraced the common man, at a Dec. 3 benefit.
Proceeds from the annual Labor on Broadway event will go to the Drama Desk Award-winning troupe that made a splash with Off-Broadway's Tabletop in 2000. The 7 PM benefit is called Labor On Broadway: A Tribute to Lyricist Yip Harburg, Broadway's Social Conscience and includes special guest Ernie Harburg, E.Y. "Yip" Harburg's son and author of his father's biography, "Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz?," and president of the Harburg Foundation. Harburg's daughter-in-law, the author Deena Rosenberg Harburg, conceives and narrates the evening, which will include a film clip of the late Harburg. Performers Ann Crumb, Catherine Russell, Sal Viviano will perform prior to dinner. Comedian Lewis Black will also perform.
A cocktail reception begins at 7 PM with performances at 7:30 PM and dinner to follow at 1199/SEIU's National Benefit and Pension Fund's Cherkasky Davis Conference Center, 330 W. 42nd St., 33rd Floor.
Tickets are $150 each (unreserved seats), $250 each (reserved seats), $1,500 (table of 10, reserved table seats), $3,000 (table of 10, reserved table seats and a full page ad in benefit book. For information, call (212) 539-5675.
The evening will raise money for the theatre's ongoing efforts to create theatre for and about working people and will specifically support the company's Theatre Works program which offers performance workshops for union members. "The lyricist, like any artist, cannot be neutral," Yip Harburg said in 1970. "He should be concerned for the rights, potential and dignity of his fellow man."
Harburg (1896-1981) was born of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents on Manhattan's Lower East Side. His lyrics for Broadway shows and movie musicals burbled with liberal ideas about freedom, equality and the contradictions of the class and economic systems: "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?," "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich," "It Was Good Enough for Grandma," "The Eagle and Me," "That Great Come-and-Get-It Day," "This Time of the Year" and "Necessity."
With Harold Arlen, Harburg wrote "Over the Rainbow," considered by many to be the perfect song and the greatest American song of the 20th century.
His Broadway shows include Flahooley (which referenced communist witch hunts), Jamaica (which has topical targets, from consumerism to the Cold War), Darling of the Day (which tweaked the British class system and snobs of the art world), Bloomer Girl (set during The Civil War and addressing women's rights and slavery) and Finian's Rainbow (which included racist characters who are punished within the context of as musical comedy fantasy).
— By Kenneth Jones