Porgy and Bess Still Has Soul

Photo by Michael J. Lutch


The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre L. Murray, American Repertory Theatre, Loeb Drama Center, 8/17/11-10/2/11.  http://www.americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/gershwins-porgy-and-bess.   Mature themes.

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

(Cambridge, MA) Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald bring soul to American Repertory Theatre’s production of The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.  The couple struggles to hold onto their love in the midst of danger and strife.  Although minor changes have been made to the operetta, the integrity of the original piece remains intact.

Norm Lewis puts his entire heart into the role of Porgy.   Lewis’ physicality as the cripple remains constant and believable throughout the entire show.   Porgy provides warmth and safety to Bess despite his physical limitations.  Porgy’s love, faithfulness, and strength cannot be denied.  Lewis’ dynamic performance and sensual song will definitely garner him a Tony nomination if the show does make its intended Broadway transfer in January.

Audra McDonald extends the dulcet tones of her voice to the frail Bess.  Bess needs shelter when her husband Crown kills a man and runs away.  She finds comfort in Porgy’s arms.  McDonald demonstrates her dexterity as an actress particularly after Bess encounters Crown.  Bess’ devastation contrasts acutely with Porgy’s strength.  Audra McDonald will likely be nominated for her performance when it transfers.

Suzan-Lori Parks main revisions to the script were to place isolated events in context and remove extraneous exposition.  These revisions are minor and non-intrusive.  However, these revisions do little to enhance the story.  All of the supporting characters remain one dimensional.  In addition, the added text to explain “It Ain’t Necessarily So” does little to justify the song’s placement or purpose.  The lack of major revisions does not weaken the show.  In fact, it keeps the show true to its original conception.  The only disappointment for some might be not having the chance to explore more developed characters that provide an in-depth exploration of the community of Catfish Row.

The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess will not disappoint anyone looking for a true, passionate depiction of the original opera.  Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis’ performances provide the soul for the heartbreaking story that will delight Broadway audiences in January.

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