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The American Repertory Theater Production of "The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess" at Richard Rodgers Theatre

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Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Rebecca Gold, Howard Kagan
et. al

Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis, David Alan Grier
The American Repertory Theater production of:
The Gershwins’
Porgy and Bess

(The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess Website)

By George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, Ira Gershwin

Adapted by Susan Lori-Parks and Diedre L. Murray

Directed by Diane Paulus
Choreographed by Ronald K. Brown
Orchestrations by William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke

Richard Rodgers Theatre
226 West 46th Street

Phillip Boykin, Nikki Renée Daniels, Joshua Henry,
Christopher Innvar, Bryonha Marie Parham, NaTasha Yvette Williams
An ensemble of singers/actors/dancers

Scenic Design: Riccardo Hernandez
Costumes: ESosa
Lighting: Christopher Akerlind
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Wig/Hair/Makeup Design: J. Jared Janas and Rob Greene
Music Supervisor: David Loud
Music Director and Conductor: Constantine Kitsopoulos
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Casting: Kelsey + Company
Assoc. Director/Production Stage Manager: Nancy Harrington
Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Associates
Press: Jeffrey Richards Associates
Irene Gandy/Alana Karpoff
Company Manager: Bruce Klinger
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 25, 2012 Matinee

The new synthesized and sizzling show, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, is riveting, rapturous, and raw. I remember the four hour opera version, which was a marathon of music and emotion, and expected the new Broadway remake to leave the audience yearning for more. Yet, it was thrilling to discover that in Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre L. Murray’s extrapolation of the powerful tension in Bess’ relationships with Porgy and Crown, we were drawn into a searing and magnetic poignancy, larger than the original opera, larger than life.

The scene is Catfish Row and Kittawah Island in Charleston, South Carolina, late 1930’s, in hurricane season. Ricardo Hernandez has designed a weathered, wooden set of bare frames and conceptual spaces. It’s always obvious what the scenery signifies, but when Audra McDonald, as Bess, struts in from the wings, the temperature rises. She seethes with lust, while she literally wears the scars of life’s wars with drugs, liquor, and sex for pay. Crown (Phillip Boykin), a violent bully, from whom Bess had successfully fled, has his way at a community picnic on Kittawah Island, that began with buoyant choral pizzazz. A hurricane and drownings precede torturous seduction, and the innocence at Kittawah turns into cataclysmic terror. The minimal set, thanks to Christopher Akerlind’s warm lighting, is vibrant and voluminous.

In addition to Crown, Bess has one other nemesis, Sporting Life (David Alan Grier), who snakes about the stage with dangerous powders and pills, looking to pry Bess from her new found nest, safe in the arms of the disabled Porgy (Norm Lewis), who saves up for a steel brace, to strengthen himself for his beloved Bess. Mr. Lewis dragged one leg painfully about the stage throughout this matinee performance, and it was incredible to realize he’d be dragging his twisted limb for hours again in the evening. The precious shared minutes between Porgy and Bess were maximized by extraordinary vocal duos, “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” and “I Loves You, Porgy”. The Gershwins and the Heywards would have loved to hear them. Ms. McDonald sings with deep trills and cognac smoothness, while Mr. Lewis sings with mesmerizing masculinity. Together, they stopped the show. Diane Paulus directed to project soaring musicality and melodramatic sexuality.

NaTasha Yvette Williams as Mariah, is a big mama from the South, with vocals to match her star quality, as she portrayed the ever caring woman in the community who comes to everyone’s rescue except those who tread on the weakest. In the eye of the hurricane’s wrath, with central characters being washed in the waves, Mariah is the ever present matriarch, who can cradle a baby and chase a lout. Nikki Renée Daniels and Joshua Henry, as Clara and Jake, caught my eye and ear in their toned down version of “Summertime”. Jake’s “It Takes a Long Pull”, sung with the Fishermen, won huge audience accolades. The chorus made the most of “Oh, The Lord Shake the Heaven”, and William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke’s orchestrations spotlighted the tonal adaptations. Ronald K. Brown’s choreography filled the vast stage space with athletic spins and leaps, as the ensemble wore ESosa’s simple Southern attire. Kudos to all.

Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis
in "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"
Courtesy of Michael J. Lutch

David Alan Grier
in "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"
Courtesy of Michael J. Lutch

The Community of Catfish Row
in "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"
Courtesy of Michael J. Lutch

David Alan Grier and Company
in "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"
Courtesy of Michael J. Lutch

Joshua Henry and Nikki Renee Daniels
in "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"
Courtesy of Michael J. Lutch

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at