The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess: A Tony Award Winning Musical
After winning several prestigious awards (including the 2012 Tony Award® for Best Revival of a Musical) The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is now playing at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, Texas as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Broadway Lexus Series.
Even if you have never seen Porgy and Bess, chances are you know its songs, since so many of them have been covered over the past 78 years. George Gershwin’s famous American opera intentionally weaves classical music with spirituals, blues and jazz, so it’s easy for artists in different genres to be inspired. Tunes from Porgy and Bess have been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra, Christina Aguilera, Peggy Lee, and even The Zombies.
The Most Covered Song of All Time?
If you are still drawing a blank at the mention of Porgy and Bess, chances are you can at least hum its opening aria, “Summertime,” which according to The Summertime Connection has been recorded over 33,000 times. Whether this tally makes it the most covered song in the world is up for debate, but there’s no denying that it’s been covered a LOT.
The Plot of Porgy and Bess: Love, Lust & Addiction
The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess takes place in Catfish Row, a seaside village of South Carolina in the 1920’s. It’s a poverty stricken community rocked by hurricanes, murder and police brutality. In the midst of all this drama we find Bess, a beautiful but tormented woman who is torn between love, lust and addiction.
As the story unfolds, Bess must choose between the unconditional love she experiences with the crippled beggar Porgy, the lust she enjoys with the virile but aimless Crown, and the self-destructive drug addiction that Sportin’ Life is all too happy to provide.
Which of these powerful men will Bess choose, and why?
Controversial Despite Gershwin Family Approval
Despite being approved by heirs to the Gershwin family estate, this current incarnation of Porgy and Bess was criticized by some for taking liberties with the original 1935 stage production. For one thing, purists are disturbed that instead of being opera, in which all the words are sung, there is *gasp* spoken dialogue in this version!
Personally, I like how Suzan-Lori Parks, the playwright who re-wrote the libretto, uses dialogue to flesh out the characters, especially the role of Bess. Another clever alteration is how Parks introduces the song “I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing” so that the “nothing” Porgy is singing about now alludes to his rich love life with Bess rather than simply his empty bank account.
It’s the mark of a classic that artists continually find new inspiration in older works, reinterpreting and shaping them to reflect the current zeitgeist. (Case in point, Joss Whedon’s 2012 adaption of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”) While purists’ feathers get ruffled by what is added and/or trimmed, when a piece is meant to be performed live, it will never be a static entity.
Talented Cast Has Plenty of Something
All controversy aside, The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is a pleasure to the eyes and ears. As I read the cast biographies, I was surprised to see that not all of them list operatic experiences prior to this production because they all have such strong voices.
Alicia Hall Moran fully inhabits that tormented temptress, Bess. Nathaniel Stampley‘s Porgy will break your heart with his sincerity and tragic optimism, while Alvin Crawford, who plays Bess’ longtime lover, Crown, is forceful and charismatic. I also enjoyed how Kingsley Leggs as Sportin’ Life exhudes a laid-back Cab Calloway vibe, with a dash of smug cynicism for good measure.
All in all, the cast of The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess has got plenty of something and that “something” is talent. I highly recommend this show.
For More information:
What:US National Tour of The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess
When: December 11 through 23, 2013
Where: 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Price: Tickets start at $30. Check availability and book online at the AT&T Performing Art Center official website.
Runtime:Approximately 2.5 hours with one intermission.
NOTE: While tickets were provided for review purposes, the opinions expressed in this article are wholly my own.
Photo credits: All photos provided courtesy of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, and copyright Michael J. Lutch.