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Don't Miss "Porgy and Bess"
"Porgy and Bess"
Directed by Diane Paulus
Richard Rodgers Theatre
226 West 46 Street
Opened Jan. 12, 2012
Sunday at 3pm, Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday thru Sat. at 8pm, 2pm matinees Wednesday and Saturday
Tickets: $75 - $150 (800) 250-2929
Closes June 24, 2012
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 2, 2012
"Porgy and Bess".Photo by Michael J.Lutch.
When the Gershwin’s "Porgy and Bess" was first performed on Broadway at the Alvin theatre in 1935, the run lasted only 124 performances. In 1972, Cheryl Crawford brought a much cut version to the Majestic Theater, where it ran for nine months. Since then, although there have been several version of "Porgy and Bess" on tour, abroad and at various opera houses, the "American folk opera" has not been seen again on the Great White Way.
Nevertheless several songs from the opera, most notably "Summertime," "It Ain’t Necessarily So" and "I Got Plenty of Nothing," have entered the American song repertoire, and the show is iconic both in its representation of the African American experience and its historic contribution to the desegregation of American theater.
The American Repertory Theater’s "Porgy and Bess," directed by Diane Paulus, features Suzan-Lori Parks adaptation of DuBoise and Dorothy Hayward’s book and Deidre L. Murray’s considerable cutting of Gershwin’s score. To a great extent they have turned an opera into a musical. Some may protest, but for many, just the fact that "Porgy and Bess" is again on Broadway is a cause for celebration. And that it is really quite good should be a source of jubilation.
The minute the curtain rises, Riccardo Hernandez’s rendering of Catfish Row and Christopher Akerlind’s intense lighting prepare the audience for the passion and violence to follow. As the strains of "Summertime" sung by Clara (Nikki Renee Daniels) and Jake (Joshua Henry) fill the house, it becomes obvious this is going to be a theatrical experience one is happy not to have missed
Audra McDonald is nothing less than thrilling as Bess, Catfish Row’s fallen woman. Although her magnificent voice and presence clearly dominate the show, Norm Lewis is a compassionate Porgy who makes a valiant attempt at holding Bess’s love and the audience’s attention. Some of the best scenes contain McDonald and Lewis’s duets, which soar magnificently. As doomed lovers, they tear out guts and warm our hearts.
Phillip Boykin is such an imposing and predatory Crown, Bess’s former lover, it’s obvious he will fight to the death to keep his woman. And, even those who do not know the story, will realize that if Bess is not trapped by Crown, she will most probably succumb to Sporting Life (David Alan Grier), the town’s drug supplier and all-around cynic (his execution of Ira’s brilliantly rhymed "It Ain’t Necessarily So" says it all). All great dramas have a moral core, and in "Porgy and Bess," this is ably personified by Mariah (Natasha Yvette Williams).
The leads are backed by an outstanding ensemble that epitomizes the struggling, suffering poor with all their strengths and weaknesses. Ronald K. Brown’s choreography effectively mixes native African movement with African-American jazz.
The changes made to this "Porgy and Bess" may strike some as unnecessary or detrimental, most specifically taking Porgy out of his goat cart and giving him a stick with which he hobbles across the stage. Others may disapprove of the trimmed-down more Broadway audience-friendly score. But this is Broadway at its best. And for Broadway audiences "who could ask for anything more?"
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