Despite all the
hysterical hoopla about the changes that were made to “Porgy and Bess,” which,
re-designed by director Diane Paulus, playwright Suzan- Lori Parks and composer
Diedre Murray, is supposed to be more Broadway show than opera, the new version
is great! The characters are all there in all their glory; the beautiful songs
like “Summertime,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” “Leaving for the Promised Land,” “I Got
Plenty of Nothing,” “Bess, You Is My Woman , Now,” “I Love You, Porgy,” and
”I’m On My Way,” can be appreciated in the context in which they were conceived;
and the talent is extraordinary.
Do I miss some of the
lush orchestrations? Yes! But if this means that Porgy and Bess and all the
folks in Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina, will be able to tour and be
more accessible to a larger public it is a small price to pay. Audra McDonald,
who possesses a glorious, golden voice and a gorgeous persona, is a most
splendid Bess. In a tight-fitting sexy red dress (Costumes-E. Sosa), when she
appears on the scene with Crown, scarily played by bass-baritone Phillip Boykin,
who has one of the most powerful voices heard in some time, she is shunned
because of her wanton ways.
But after Crown flees
for killing Robbins (Nathaniel Stampley), Bess moves in with the crippled
Porgy, a part Norm Lewis gives his all to; she begins a new clean lifestyle in
a simple printed dress. Although taunted by Sporting Life, the charming David
Alan Grier, who fills Cab Calloway’s very large shoes with great aplomb in “It
Ain’t Necessarily So,” and “There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon,” she adamantly
refuses the drugs he offers. It seems that Porgy and Bess are having a good
life together, but a storm lurks in the background.
Following a picnic on an
island, during a hurricane, Bess encounters Crown, who attacks her. By the time
she escapes and returns to Porgy, damage has been done. Although Porgy kills
Crown, Bess’s drug addiction takes her over and she leaves with Sporting Life
for New York. It is interesting to note that when she fights the drugs, the
audience I was in applauded. When she finally succumbed, there was a
perceptible gasp of disappointment that erupted.
On Riccardo Hernandez’s
stripped down set, panels of coppery metal, lit smokily by Christopher
Akerlind, everyone in the cast defines their roles perfectly. Among the standouts:
Nikki Renee Daniels, Joshua Henry, Christopher Innvar, Bryonha Marie Parham,
NaTasha Yvette Williams.
“Porgy and Bess” at the Richards Rodger Theater
on Broadway has been extended to play through September 30. Children from 12
years old are welcome.