AISLE SAY Philadelphia

The Gershwins’ PORGY AND BESS

by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin
Book Adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks Musical Score Adapted by Diedre L. Murray
Orchestrations by William David Brohn and Chirstopher Jahnke
Choreographed by Ronald K. Brown
Directed by Diane Paulus

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Run don’t walk to see this musical theater reinvention of The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Touted as one of our finest “American Operas” written by George & Ira Gershwin (Music & Lyrics) and DuBose & Dorothy Heyward (Book & Lyrics), this National Tour of the 2012 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical Revival has a newly adapted, modernized Book by Suzan-Lori Parks and an amped up, revamped Musical Score by Diedre L. Murray. Not to mention the wonderfully naturalistic choreography by Ronald K. Brown that comes out of character and not out of a Broadway dance book.

Based on the 1925 novel by Charleston writer DuBose Heyward and a stage adaptation by his wife, Dorothy Heyward, its original form for the Boston tryout was four hours long before Gershwin cut it to three for the Broadway opening in 1935. In 1942 in an acclaimed production, Cheryl Crawford replaced recitatives with dialogue modernizing the piece and making it more accessible to general audiences. This is not to say that the music hasn’t always been something that the public has responded to. Most people of a certain age will know the songs, I Got Plenty of Nothing, It Ain’t Necessarily So, Bess, You Is My Woman Now, There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon and of course the standard that’s stood the test of all time, Summertime. It is a lush, gorgeous score from the opening strains of the Overture to the closing, uplifting strains of Porgy’s I’m on My Way.

Set in the fictional slum, Catfish Row, in Charleston, South Carolina, Porgy and Bess is the story of a crippled beggar and the woman who falls in love with him. Bess is Crown’s woman. Crown, a huge, strong drunk with an uncontrollable temper, kills a man over a dice game. He then must flee the police but promises to return for Bess. With Crown gone, Bess has nowhere to turn except to Porgy who offers to take her in. A month passes and Porgy and Bess are happily living together. But when the whole village goes on a picnic to Kittiwah Island (leaving Porgy behind) Bess discovers that Crown has been hiding out there. He threatens to take her by force and though Bess acquiesces, the next day she runs away from him and returns to Porgy, delirious and laden with fever. Porgy nurses her back to health and swears to protect her from Crown. A storm is on the way and the hurricane bell sounds as the entire village takes shelter. But Crown bursts in and demands that Bess go with him. One of the village women, Clara, knows that her husband, Jake, is lost in the storm and runs out to find him. Crown follows her into the storm. The next day, all believe that Crown, Jake and Clara are dead. But later that night, Crown, who has survived the storm, returns for Bess. Porgy defends Bess and attacks Crown, killing him. The next day Porgy is dragged off by the police to identify the body and is held for three days. Fearing that Porgy will never return and that she will be accused of being an accessory to the crime, Bess runs away to New York. When Porgy is finally released, he leaves for New York to find his Bess with whom he cannot live without.

The voices in this production are simply overwhelming. Nathaniel Stampley as Porgy and Alicia Hall Moran as Bess give soul wrenching performances as the beleaguered lovers. After Denisha Ballew’s mournful rendition of My Man is Gone Now as Serena, the tears were streaming down my face. Sumayya Ali (Clara) opens the show with a stunning delivery of the glorious, Summertime, as she sings it to her sleeping baby. Kingsley Leggs gets to showboat as the nefarious low-life, Sporting Life, who tempts everybody with his “magic dust”. And Danielle Lee Greaves is sassiness personified as the matriarchal Mariah. The remainder of the cast and the entire ensemble needs to be lauded for their singing and dancing, as in this production they are integrated much more into the action.

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