There’s another revival on Broadway with a newer title: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and it ain’t necessarily “theatre” or “opera”. It’s a combination of both with the famous opening number, “Summertime”, sung in operatic tone by (Clara) Nikki Renee Daniels.
I am too young to have seen the original Broadway musical, opera versions in New York, nor the movie. In fact I went into the theatre without the knowledge of the plot. So, let’s get to that. The play is set in Charleston, South Carolina, in a small black enclave known as Catfish Row. It tells about Porgy (Norm Lewis), a crippled beggar who (originally) travels about in a goat-drawn cart and falls in love with Bess (Audra McDonald), a woman of some negative reputation who is under the domination of a man named Crown (Phillip Boykin). Crown murders a Catfish Row inhabitant in a craps game and takes a hike. Bess falls in love with Porgy. When Crown returns for Bess, Porgy kills him. Porgy goes to jail, and Bess is enticed to go to New York by, Sportin' Life (David Alan Grier), a flashy gambler and provider of cocaine. At the play’s end, Porgy is headed to New York to search for her.
There have been all sorts of revisions regarding Porgy and Bess. This one has little dialogue. No matter. It’s this performance that I’m experiencing so let’s talk about what counts. In case you are not familiar with the score, there were specific numbers that become popular including “I Got Plenty of Nothing”, sung by Porgy; “I Loves You Porgy”, sung by Porgy and Bess and “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, sung by Sportin’ Life.
As The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is not a huge production like Les Miz or Phantom, what it does have works well. The cast is adequate enough to enjoy the ensemble numbers in both voice and movement and they all stand out in the way of talent.
Audra McDonald gives a wonderfully moving performance with barely enough time to not be on the stage. From the first time she sings you know that she has a background in opera. I thought that she appeared glassy eyed until it occurred to me that Bess is snorting.
As Norm Lewis was not in a goat cart, he did a remarkable job of walking about with the foot of his left leg pointed towards the middle of his body. His singing voice is in between operatic and theatre. However, it doesn’t blend as well when he and Audra do a duet not both having the same “tone”. But who cares?
David Alan Grier has a noticeable role. The Sportin’ Life character allows him to show off his voice (we already know that he acts well) with his solo. Nikki Renee Daniels made her NYC Opera debut as Clara in the operatic version…no surprise.
Well, they didn’t throw in a token gay guy but I am now noticing that there seems to be a token “fat black woman” going on. I had remarked to my friend Renee, a fellow writer about this. We had all to do but laugh when the actor appeared…complete with what seemed to be an extra added butt shelf, if you know what I mean.
All in all, I highly recommend The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess as a dramatic musical and good entertainment.
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