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Saturday, 08 March 2014 16:23

Porgy and Bess Plays Shea’s Buffalo

Written by  Dane Taylor
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2012 Tony Award Winner: Best Musical Revival, “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” Plays Buffalo’s Shea’s Performing Arts Centre Beginning This Tuesday
Exclusive Area Engagement
The weather outside may be frightful.  But starting Tuesday evening at Buffalo’s Shea’s Performing Arts Centre ... for eight performances ... it will be summertime.  And indeed, the living will be easy. 
All my life I’ve wanted to see George and Ira Gershwin’s (and DuBose Heyward’s) 1935 masterpiece, but it’s always escaped me.  Most memorably, it was playing in Berlin when my wife and I were there in May 1990, just after the Wall opened.  From the S-Bahn, I saw the huge banners as my heart sank.  Sadly, we were there for only two days, and had already made other plans with our hosts.  In that production, the wonderful bass singer Mic Bell played Porgy.  Coincidentally, seven years later I worked with him when he majestically sang “Ol’ Man River” as Joe in the Toronto world premiere and Broadway productions of  Hal Prince production of “Show Boat.”
So, I’m really looking forward to Tuesday night and hearing this thrilling score played live by a majestic 23-piece orchestra with such classic Gershwin songs as “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “I Got Plenty of Nothing,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” and my favorite “There’s a Boat that’s Leaving Soon for New York.”

No plans have been announced to bring this production to Toronto.
"...a streamlined, musically ravishing show; faithful to what counts most - Gershwin's lush, bluesy, irreplaceable score" - TIME magazine
Upon this production’s Broadway premiere in January 2012, TIME magazine raved “This PORGY is a streamlined, intimate, musically ravishing show; faithful to what counts most – Gershwin’s lush, bluesy, irreplaceable score.”  In its top 10 theatre production of 2011, TIME ranked it as its number two choice.
Associated Press hailed it as "a gorgeous version of the Gershwin masterpiece." Newsday called it "a luscious piece of musical theatre: a gripping, in-your-face, vibrant revival that bursts with fierce immediacy''.  Shea’s press material describes the piece as “a classic story set in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina’s catfish Row, where the beautiful Bess struggles to break free from her scandalous past, and the only one who can rescue her is the courageous, disabled Porgy.

“Threatened by her formidable former lover Crown, and the seductive enticements of the colorful troublemaker Sporting Life, Porgy and Bess’ relationship evolves into a deep romance that triumphs as one of theatre’s most exhilarating love stories.”
The touring cast stars Alicia Hall Moran as Bess (who also sang the role in the Broadway cast) and Nathaniel Stampley as Porgy with Alvin Crawford as Crown, Kingsley Leggs as Sporting Life, Denisha Ballew as Serena, Danielle Lee Greaves as Mariah and David Hughey as Jake.

"Sumayya Ali -- A heart wrenchingly tender yet powerful soprano"
Sumayya Ali as Clara sings the opening song “Summertime.”  Her voice has been described as “a heart wrenchingly tender yet powerful soprano.”  I can’t wait to hear it.

First presented by the American Repertory Theatre (ART) in Cambridge, Massachusetts in August 2011, this production began previews on Broadway that December before opening the following month at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.  The creative team, led by Tony Award-winning director Diana Paulus (revivals of “Pippin” and “Hair”), followed British director Trevor Nunn’s initiative for his 2006 production at London’s Savoy Theatre to adapt the original, lengthy opera by using musical theatre conventions.  He was the first to rename it “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.”  With permission from the Gershwin and Heyward estates, he took dialogue from DuBose Heyward’s novel and play,”Porgy,” to create naturalistic scenes that replaced the recitatives.  He also cast musical theatre actors instead of opera singers.

For this new 2011 adaptation, Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog,” “Underdog”) wrote new spoken dialogue.  Broadway veteran William David Brohn (known to Toronto audiences for his musicalization of “Ragtime” and Hal Prince’s revival of “Show Boat,” as well as “Miss Saigon” and “Wicked”), and Christopher Jahnke created new orchestrations.  Two-time Obie Award-winning composer Diedre L. Murray wrote additional music.

Controversy -- Stephen Sondheim protests changes to libretto and score
Controversy erupted when Paulus, Parks and Murray told the media their production’s goal was “to introduce `Porgy and Bess’ to the next generation of theatregoers.”  They explained various changes to dialogue, plot and score they were considering.  "The opera will always exist to be performed,”Paulus told the New York Times. “What we wanted to do was a new conception that tries to deal with the holes and issues in the story that would be very, very obvious to a musical-theatre audience." The Times reported the pair had "added new scenes, punched up some dialogue, invented biographical details and – most radically –added a more upbeat ending."

They also proposed a new upbeat finale intended to make it more likely Porgy and Bess would reunited.  Many people in the theatre world erupted in protest.  One of the loudest and highest profile of them was Stephen Sondheim.  Here’s a link to what he had to say:

The new ending was dropped.

Ticket Information:
Performances are Tuesday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Call 1-800-745-3000 or visit ticketmaster.com.

Shea’s Performing Arts Centre is located at 646 Main Street, Buffalo, NY, USA.  www.sheas.org
The acclaimed two-CD new Broadway cast recording of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” stars record five-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald and Drama Desk nominee Norm Lewis from the original cast in the title roles.

Disc One
  1. Overture
  2. Summertime
  3. Roll Them Bones
  4. A Woman Is a Sometime Thing
  5. Porgy’s Entrance
  6. Crap Game
  7. The Killing of Robbins
  8. Gone, Gone, Gone
  9. My Man’s Gone Now
  10. Leaving for the Promised Land
  11. It Takes a Long Pull To Get Theatre
  12. I Got Plenty of Nothing
  13. I Hates Your Strutting Style
  14. “Picnics is all right”
  15. Bess, You Is My Woman Now
  16. Oh, I Can’t Sit Down

Disc Two
  1. It Ain’t Necessarily Slow
  2. What You Want With Bess?
  3. Oh, Doctor Jesus
  4. Street Cries
  5. “I was powerful sick”
  6. I Loves You, Porgy
  7. The Storm Approaches
  8. Oh, The Lord Shake the Heaven
  9. A Red Headed Woman
  10. Oh, Doctor Jesus (Reprise)
  11. Clara, Don’t You Be Downhearted
  12. Summertime (Reprise)
  13. The Death of Crown
  14. There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon for New York
  15. Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess?
  16. Oh Lord, I’m On My Way
Dennis Kucherawy
Last modified on Sunday, 09 March 2014 15:30
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