IMAGE ABOVE: The cast of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Photo by Michael J. Lutch.
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is a musical not to be missed. Currently in its first leg of a national tour, health it visits the Winspear Opera House in Dallas. While the beauty in this musical is not a revelation, advice the revival brought to stage in 2012 by director Diane Paulus and playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is transformative, sick cutting down the four-hour opera into an accessible two-and-a-half hour musical.
Made famous by jazz musicians, the familiar melodies of George and Ira Gerswhin’s “Summertime”, “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “I Got Plenty of Nothing” are instantly gripping, pulling you deep into the heart of Catfish Row. Here in this struggling African-American community lives the cripple Porgy, who develops a soft spot for the local hussy Bess.
Many New York critics noted that in comparison with the original, this version of the story seems slight, cutting parts of the score, scrapping characters and replacing the sung-through scenes with dialogue. In my mind, these edits allow the story to become infinitely more accessible for a modern audience, without sacrificing the high drama of an opera.
The touring production features a cast helmed by the incredible Nathaniel Stampley as Porgy, lending his booming voice to the tender character. His heart wrenching love story comes forefront the stunning duet “Bess, You is My Woman Now,” shared with the equally talented Alicia Hall Moran.
The understated triumph of the entire production is the lighting design. To represent the way in which Porgy and Bess share an existence as outsiders, designer Christopher Akerlind often places them in a square spotlight, while the other members of the cast share a large circular light. But notice in the first act’s funeral scene, another light casts shadows on the stage’s back wall, illuminating a more unified spiritual dimension.
This tour of Porgy and Bess proves poignant, just like you might imagine it did when the original debuted in 1935. Years later, the ending renders the same hopeful heartbreak.