Oscar E Moore

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The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess – starring Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis, David Alan Grier and the entire ensemble

January 28th, 2012 by Oscar E Moore

In a word.  Go!  PORGY AND BESS, the 1935 iconic and revered four hour folk opera by George and Ira Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward has undergone a “nip and tuck’ procedure by director Diane Paulus, Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre L. Murray resulting in a condensed running time and a new title – The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.

No matter what you call this new, fully reimagined musical it is a pleasure to hear and watch.  From the first notes of the overture to the heartbreaking finale.  Judging from the positive audience reaction during intermission and at plays end this limited run through June 24th should surely be extended.

This new version is gritty and passionate and powerful with classic songs that are gorgeously sung charged with the varied emotions of love, loss and revenge.  The casting is perfection. 

Care has been taken to make each character an individual that comes to life on the bare bones set (Riccardo Hernandez) of Catfish Row in Charleston South Carolina circa 1930.

A set that works extremely well with the help of lighting designer Christopher Akerlind’s atmospheric shadowy effects. 

Costumes by ESosa reflect beautifully the black working class waterfront community (under white law) that has some “picnic” finery set aside for such festive occasions.  The wonderful, specific and original choreography that seems to erupt from nowhere by Ronald K. Brown should bring him a slew of nominations.

Norm Lewis is spectacular in the role of Porgy – a cripple “destined to be lonely” – who befriends the outcast “hooch” drinker and “happy dust” sniffing Bess (a raw, sensuous and conflicted Audra McDonald) when she is separated from her abusive lover Crown (Phillip Boykin making a sensational Broadway debut with his majestic voice) and being tempted by the devilish Sporting Life (a swaggering and slimy David Alan Grier).

Watching Norm Lewis standing with his new leg brace and waiting for Bess to return from the picnic shows his devotion and longing for this woman.  Not a very nice woman.  A woman who doesn’t quite know how to handle his treating her like a lady.  Audra McDonald has all the conflicting emotions racing through her head as she tries desperately to kick her addictions and to return the love of Porgy.  There is a sizzling sexual tension between them that soars musically in their duets.

Drugs.  Gambling.  Rape.  Murder.  A hurricane, humanity and racism inhabit this riveting production, elevated by the genius score of George Gershwin and his brother Ira and the excellent direction of Diane Paulus who had a concept and went with it – undeterred by what others thought of it.  And she comes out the winner and Porgy and Bess is the better for it.

I have to mention also Nikki Renee Daniels (Clara) and Joshua Henry (Jake) her husband whose voices soar in “Summertime” and start the show off on its incredible musical journey.

“Street Cries” sung by Strawberry Woman (Andrea Jones-Sojola), Honey Man  (Phumzile Sojola and Crab Man (Cedric Neal) is beautifully done.

And then there is NaTasha Yvette Williams (Mariah) who contributes warmth and humor.

As the two white racists – Detective and Policeman (Christopher Innvar and Joesph Dellger respectively) are suitably despicable.

The surprising reaction from the audience when the villain Crown takes his bow sums up how real and vibrant this production is.  How true it is to its characters and story.  The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess should not be missed.  At the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

www.porgyandbessonbroadway.com     Photos:  Michael J. Lutch

NOTE:  The orchestra steps at the Richard Rodgers Theatre are extremely steep and pose quite a lot of problems for patrons with canes or who have trouble walking.  Porgy could never navigate those dangerous steps.

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