Theater Review - Porgy and Bess/3 (NY)

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.

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