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Full Cast Announced for THE GERSHWINS' PORGY AND BESS at A.R.T.

Full-Cast-Announced-for-THE-GERSHWINS-PORGY-AND-BESS-at-ART-20010101

A.R.T. American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) opens its 2011-12 season with The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin. The adaptation by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and Obie Award-winning composer Diedre L. Murray, directed by A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus, with choreography by Ronald K. Brown, begins previews on August 17 and opens for the reviewing press on August 31 at 7pm. Performances are at the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge. Tickets for preview performances are currently on sale, remaining tickets for the run go on sale on July 12.

Led by Audra McDonald as Bess and Norm Lewis as Porgy, the Company includes David Alan Grier as Sporting Life, Joshua Henry as Jake, Phillip Boykin as Crown, Nikki Renee Daniels as Clara, Bryonha Marie Parham as Serena, NaTasha Yvette Williams as Maria, Cedric Neal as Frazier, J.D. Webster as Mingo, Heather Hill as Lily, Phumzile Sojola as Peter, and Nathaniel Stampley as Robbins. The ensemble also includes Allison Blackwell, Roosevelt Andre Credit, Trevon Davis, Joseph Dellger, Wilkie Ferguson, Alicia Hall Moran, Andrea Jones-Sojola, and Lisa Nicole Wilkerson; the Coroner is Joseph Dellger.

THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS began its life as DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy, which he and his wife Dorothy Heyward adapted into a play. George Gershwin wanted to write an American opera — a piece that would infuse classical musical tradition with what he considered the vigor of blues and jazz, two distinctly American musical forms. He found in Porgy the perfect vehicle, and with Heyward as librettist and Ira Gershwin as lyricist, Gershwin's new opera had its premiere in Boston's Colonial Theater on September 30, 1935. Broadway performances followed featuring a cast of classically trained African-American singers — a daring and visionary artistic choice at the time.

This classic American tale tells the story of the beautiful and troubled Bess, who turns to Porgy, the crippled beggar, in search of safety after her possessive lover Crown commits murder. As Porgy and Bess’s love grows, their future is threatened by Crown and the conniving Sportin' Life. The heartbreaking love story is set in the late 1930s in Catfish Row, a neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina and boasts some of the most famous and beloved works from the Great American Songbook including “Summertime,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So," and “I Loves You, Porgy.”

Creating a new version of Gershwin’s renowned Porgy and Bess is a privilege bestowed upon Diane Paulus and the A.R.T by the estates of George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward in their desire to take the work from the opera house to the musical stage and its popular roots. The new production maintains the original setting and includes all of the great and beloved songs.

Set design is by Riccardo Hernandez (Il Postino at LA Opera, Washington Opera, and Le Chatelet, Paris; numerous productions at A.R.T.), costume design by Project Runway finalist ESosa, lighting design by Christopher Akerlind (Tony Award for The Light in the Piazza; The Seagull, Britannicus and others at A.R.T.), sound by ACME Sound Partners, and casting by Telsey + Company. Orchestration is by William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke, the Music Supervisor is David Loud, and the conductor is Sheilah Walker.

This production of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess is being presented in association with Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel.

About the Cast:

Audra McDonald (Bess) is the recipient of four Tony Awards for her performances in Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime, and A Raisin in the Sun, and a nomination for her performance in Marie Christine. She reprised her Raisin role for a 2008 television adaptation, earning her an Emmy Award nomination. McDonald appeared as Lizzie in the Roundabout Theatre Company's 2007 revival of 110 in the Shade, for which she shared the Drama Desk Award for Best Actress in a Musical with Donna Murphy. She frequently performs in concert throughout the US and has performed with musical institutions such as the New York Philharmonic and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Carnegie Hall commissioned the song cycle The Seven Deadly Sins: A Song Cycle for McDonald, and she performed it at Carnegie's Zankel Hall in 2004. She sang in Francis Poulenc's La Voix Humaine and the world premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's Send (who are you? I love you) at Houston Grand Opera, and in Kurt Weill's opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at LA Opera (the resulting recording won two Grammy Awards, for Best Opera Recording and Best Classical Album in 2009). Her television roles include the ABC television drama Private Practice as Dr. Naomi Bennett, the HBO film Wit (Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a miniseries), Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, The Bedford Diaries, and Kidnapped, and the 1999 television remake of Annie as Daddy Warbucks' secretary, Miss Farrell. Her films include Best Thief in the World, It Runs in the Family, The Cradle Will Rock, The Object of My Affection, and Seven Servants. McDonald has recorded four solo albums for Nonesuch Records, including Way Back to Paradise, How Glory Goes, Happy Songs, and Build a Bridge.

Norm Lewis (Porgy) recently played Javert in Les Miserables at London's West End, a role he also played on Broadway and for which he received a Drama League nomination. Other Broadway roles include Sondheim on Sondheim (recording has just been released), King Triton in The Little Mermaid, Billy Flynn in Chicago, Jake in Side Show, John in Miss Saigon, as well as roles in The Wild Party, Amour, and he was in the original cast of Tommy. Off-Broadway he was seen as Nathan in Dessa Rose (Drama Desk nomination, AUDELCO Award), Valentine in Two Gentlemen of Verona (Drama League nomination), Doc in Captains Courageous, and Roger in A New Brain. Regional credits include Coalhouse in Ragtime, Sweeney in Sweeney Todd, El Gallo in The Fantastics. He appeared in concert for The Actors' Fund concerts of Chess (Molokov), Dreamgirls (Curtis), and HAIR. Children of Eden (Father), Bright Lights Big City (Tad), Golden Boy (Eddie) for City Center Encores! Film and television includes Sex and the City 2, Preaching to the Choir, Confidences, Mystery Woman, Cosby, Strong Medicine, All My Children, As The World Turns. His debut solo CD is entitled "Norm Lewis: This is the Life." He was part of the July 4th Celebration with the Boston Pops this summer.

David Alan Grier (Sporting Life) trained in Shakespeare and received an MFA from the Yale School of Drama. He has since received two Tony Award nominations and has been named one of Comedy Central's "100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time". Grier began his professional career on Broadway as Jackie Robinson in The First, for which he earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical and won the Theatre World Award. He then joined the cast of Dreamgirls before going on to star opposite Denzel Washington in A Soldier's Play, for which both actors reprised their roles in the film adaptation titled A Soldier's Story. He appeared in Robert Altman's Streamers and won the Golden Lion for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival (1983). Recently was seen in David Mamet's Race on Broadway and received his second Tony Award nomination. Grier's television work is highlighted by a turn as principal cast member on the Emmy Award winning In Living Color (1990-1994) where he helped to create some of the show's most memorable characters. He was a cast member in the series DAG and Life with Bonnie (Image and Golden Satellite nomination); wrote and executive produced a show for Comedy Central called Chocolate News in 2008, and appeared on ABC's Dancing with the Stars in 2009. Grier's first book, BARACK LIKE ME: The Chocolate Covered Truth was published in 2009, and he just wrapped filming the comedy We the Peeples, set for release in 2011.

Phillip Boykin (Crown) has performed the role of Crown in Porgy and Bess internationally, most recently in Australia and New Zealand, toured with “Golden Gospel Singers” and the “Harlem Gospel Singers” throughout Europe, and was featured soloist with the “Spiritual Singers of Harlem” annual Asian tour. He toured nationally as Joe in Show Boat, sang in Black Nativity at the Kennedy Center, performed as a guest soloist with the Hartt School Chorus and Orchestra at Lincoln Center in the Alice Tully Hall. Other guest appearances include Connecticut Opera Express, Connecticut Concert Opera, Hartford Symphony, Bristol Symphony, New Britain Symphony, Cleveland Pops and the Greenville Symphony.

Nikki Renee Daniels (Clara) appeared on Broadway in Anything Goes, Promises, Promises, Les Miserables 2006 Revival, Little Shop of Horrors, Lestat, Nine, The Look of Love and Aida. She performed the role of Clara at the New York City Opera production of Porgy and Bess, and regionally she was seen in Caroline or Change (Emmie) at The Guthrie Theater; Anything Goes (Hope Harcourt), Williamstown Theater Festival; Ray Charles Live! (Della B) at Pasadena Playhouse; Beauty and the Beast (Belle) at American Musical Theater of San Jose and Sacramento Music Circus; and Ragtime (Sarah) at the North Shore Music Theater; among others.

Joshua Henry (Jake) was most recently seen on Broadway as Haywood Patterson in The Scottsboro Boys - the Musical. Other Broadway credits include Favorite Son in the Tony nominated rock musical American Idiot and the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights, which earned him the Drama Desk award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. He appeared Off-Broadway in The Wiz and in In the Heights. Regional credits include American Idiot at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Godspell at Paper Mill Playhouse.

Heather Hill (Lily) opera credits include Moby-Dick at Dallas Opera, L’elisir d’amore and Semiramide at Caramoor Summer Festival, Porgy and Bess for the European/Australian tour-Harlem Productions, Dicapo Opera, La Sonnambula, Die Entführung aus dem Serail with Opera Colorado, and L’enfant et les Sortilèges at New Jersey Opera Theater. She has also performed in a number of concerts.

Cedric Neal (Frazier) regional credits include A Christmas Carol, Henry IV. It's a Bird, It's a Plane...It's Superman, Death of a Salesman, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Who's Tommy (Rabin Award), Lost In The Stars, A Dog's Life, Porgy And Bess (Austin Critics Circle Award), Ain't Nothin' But The Blues, Brief History of White Music, The Life, Aida, The Normal Heart, Tick, tick...BOOM, Crowns, Ain't Misbehavin.' Television credits include The Good Guys, Chase, and Friday Night Lights. He is a member of the Brierley Resident Acting Company- Dallas Theater Center.

Bryona Marie Parham (Serena) was seen in the revival of Ragtime on Broadway as well as at the Kennedy Center. Other regional credits include For the Glory/Civil War, Ain’t Misbehavin', Crowns, Once on This Island, A Streetcar Named Desire, Kiss Me Kate, and Chicago/Seussical. Nathaniel Sampley (Robbins) credits include The Lion King on Broadway and the West End, The Color Purple on Broadway, and the national tour of Ragtime. Regionally he was seen in Abyssinia at the North Shore Music Theatre, Pacific Overtures at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Lost in the Stars at NY City Center’s Encores!, and One Touch of Venus at Auditorium Theatre’s Ovations! Series; Once on This Island and Big River (Joseph Jefferson Award nomination) at Apple Tree Theatre; and Showboat at Sacramento Music Circus.

Phumzile Sojola (Peter) was seen off-Broadway and on tour in Three Mo Tenors. Opera credits include L?étoile and Troubled Island at New York City Opera; Porgy & Bess at Edinburgh Festival, Opera National de Lyon, New York Harlem Theater; La Bohème with Missouri Symphony Orchestra; Carmen and Die Zauberflöte with Dayton Opera; Death in Venice with Glimmerglass Opera, and La Traviata at Cincinnati Opera.

J.D. Webster (Mingo) was seen on Broadway in Wonderful Town, Ragtime, and Show Boat. Other New York credits include Two Gentlemen of Verona at NYSF, 17 Encores! at City Center, Bernstein’s Mass, South Pacific, Ira Gershwin at 100, and Spring is Here at Carnegie Hall. His regional credits include Avenue X, Jesus Christ Superstar, Gospel, An American in Paris, The Blackamoor Angel, Violet, Jam and Spice, Guys and Dolls, Finian’s Rainbow, and The Desert Song.

NaTasha Yvette Williams (Maria) Broadway credits include The Color Purple and Dessa Rose. She played the role of Mammy in Trevor Nunn’s production of Gone With the Wind at London's West End. She toured nationally in Xanadu, The Drowsy Chaperone, All Shook Up, Seussical the Musical, and Cinderella. Regional credits include Hairspray, Ain’t Misbehavin,’ Abyssinia, and the title role of Mahalia at the Cleveland Playhouse, She has been a featured soloist with a number of orchestras nationwide.

About the Ensemble:

Allison Blackwell performed in The Lion King in Las Vegas, Ragtime at Paper Mill Theatre, Caroline, or Change at TheatreWorks (2008 San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle Award winner for Best Supporting Actress), A Little Night Music and Nunsense at Sacramento Music Circus, Hairspray and Les Miserables at North Shore Music Theatre, among others. Concert appearances include Show Boat at Carnegie Hall.

Roosevelt Andre Credit's credits include Show Boat on Broadway and national tour. Off Broadway he was seen in Marie Christine and The Prince and the Pauper. Regional credits include Ragtime, For The People, Voice From Within. Concert performances include Duke Ellington's Sacred Service at Jazz at Lincoln Center; Schubert's Mass at Carnegie Hall); Basically Bach Festival, Fauré's Requiem, Bach's St. John Passion, and Handel's Messiah.

Trevon Davis's credits include Dreamgirls at the Apollo Theater/National Broadway Tour, Black Voices: The Struggle Continues at The Urban Theatre Company of Atlanta. On television he was seen on BET’s Sunday Best Season 1 (Top 7 Finalist), MTV’s Making the Band 4 (Atlanta Finalist; New York City Contestant).

Wilkie Ferguson appeared on Broadway in Wonderland, in the first national tours of In The Heights and Hairspray. Other theater credits include the world premiere of Sister Act, Stormy Weather (with Leslie Uggams), and Ray Charles Live! (Young Ray) at the Pasadena Playhouse; Porgy and Bess and South Pacific at the Hollywood Bowl; Dreamgirls on its West Coast Tour and at Pittsburgh CLO; and Annie at Trinity Rep among others.

Andrea Jones-Sojola's theater credits include Three Mo? Divas, and Big River. She performed the role of Clara in Porgy and Bess with New York Harlem Productions in Germany and Italy; Frasquita in Carmen, Papagena in Die Zauberflöte, and Zerlina in Don Giovanni (Lucca, Italy). She sang in the concert performance of Showboat at Carnegie Hall, Messiah with the Milwaukee Symphony, and Fauré's Requiem with the Lexington Philharmonic.

Alicia Hall Moran's theater credits include Jenny in The Threepenny Opera, The Motown Project, and Things of the Heart. Concert performances include Jazz@Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center. She collaborated with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's Chapel/Chapter (US/Europe, Bessie Award for Musical Collaboration) and Time and Milestone (US/Europe), among others.

Lisa Nicole Wilkerson played Nala in the national tour of The Lion King and Ali in the national tour of Mamma Mia!. Regional credits include Abyssinia, Once on This Island, Godspell, River Deep: Tribute to Tina Turner, and Purlie. Television and film credits include The Tony Awards 2008, The Today Show, Oprah, Jay Leno, and Unconditional Love.

About the Creative Team:

A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus has directed Prometheus Bound, Death and the Powers: The Robots’ Opera (also in Monaco and Chicago) Johnny Baseball, Best of Both Worlds, The Donkey Show (also six years Off-Broadway, tours to London, Edinburgh, Madrid, Evian, France) at the A.R.T. Other recent theater credits include HAIR (Tony Award, Best Revival of a Musical; Tony Award nomination, Best Direction of a Musical) on Broadway, London, and US Tour; Lost Highway at the Young Vic/English National Opera; Kiss Me, Kate at Glimmerglass Opera; Another Country, Columbia Stages; Turandot: Rumble for the Ring, Bay Street Theater; Swimming with Watermelons, Vineyard Theater and Music-Theatre Group; Eli’s Comin, Brutal Imagination, Vineyard Theater; and Running Man (Pulitzer Prize finalist, Music-Theatre Group). Her opera credits include­ The Magic Flute for the Canadian Opera Company; Il mondo della luna at the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History, Gotham Chamber Opera; and Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro, The Turn of the Screw, Cosi fan tutte, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, L’incoronazione di Poppea and Orfeo for Chicago Opera Theater. Ms. Paulus was named one of the "50 Most Powerful Women in Boston" by Boston magazine this year.

Adapter Suzan-Lori Parks was named one of TIME magazine’s “100 Innovators for the Next New Wave.” Her plays include The America Play, also produced at the A.R.T.; Topdog/Underdog (Broadway, Pulitzer Prize for Drama), The Book of Grace, In the Blood (2000 Pulitzer Prize finalist), Venus (1996 OBIE Award), The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, Father Comes Home from the Wars Part I: The Union of My Confederate Parts, Fucking A, and Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (1990 OBIE Award for Best New American Play). She’s written screenplays for Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Girl 6, written for Spike Lee, and adapted Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, which premiered on ABC’s Oprah Winfrey Presents. In 2007 her project 365 Plays/365 Days was produced in over 700 theaters worldwide. She teaches at NYU, and currently performing her experimental solo show, Watch Me Work at The Public Theatre, where she serves as Master Writer Chair.

Adapter/Arranger Diedre L. Murray composed the A.R.T.'s production of Best of Both Worlds. She is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, two-time Obie winner, innovative composer, cellist, producer and curator. Her musical theater works include Unending Pain, a choral/chamber work (co-presented by the Performance Garage and the Whitney Museum of American Art, toured to the Studio Museum of Harlem and Productions Traquen’Arts Cello Festival in Montreal); Let’s Go Down to the River, a score for octet, Willasau Jazz Festival in Switzerland; The Eves of Nhor, a string trio for National Dutch Radio and De Effenaar Festival in Eindhoven Holland; Kamerados, for mixed ensemble; Five Minute Tango, a score for the inaugural concert at the Danny Kaye/Sylvia Fine Playhouse, performed by the Manhattan Brass Quintet; The Conversation for the Seattle-based New Performance Group; You Don’t Miss the Water, a music-theater piece in collaboration with noted poet Cornelius Eady, produced by the Music-Theatre Group (MTG); Women In The Dunes, a dance piece created by Blondel Cummings for the Japan Society; the original story and score for the jazz-opera Running Man with book with Cornelius Eady (two Obie Awards, finalist for the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama); music arrangements for Eli’s Coming (Obie Award); and an adaptation by Diane Paulus of James Baldwin’s Another Country.

Choreographer Ronald K. Brown is the Founder and Artistic Director of EVIDENCE, A DANCE COMPANY, a New York-based contemporary dance ensemble since 1985. Has also created work for the African American Dance Ensemble, Philadanco, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Cinque Folkloric Dance Theater, Jennifer Muller/The Works, and Jeune Ballet d’Afrique Noire. He has collaborated with composer/designer Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya, the late writer Craig G. Harris, director Ernie McClintock’s Jazz Actors Theater, choreographers Patricia Hoffbauer and Rokiya Kone, and composers Robert Een, Oliver Lake, Bernadette Speech, David Simons, and Don Meissner. He is the recipient of a New York Dance and Performance Award (Bessie), a Black Theater Alliance Award, the American Dance Festival Humphrey/Weidman/Limón Award, and an AUDELCO (Black Theatre Award) for his choreography for Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, originally produced by the McCarter Theater and presented off-Broadway in 2003. Brown was named Def Dance Jam Workshop Mentor of the Year in 2000.

The American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) is one of the country’s most celebrated resident theaters and the winner of numerous awards — including the Tony Award, the Pulitzer Prize and regional Elliot Norton and I.R.N.E. Awards. In 2002 the A.R.T. was the recipient of The National Theatre Conference’s Outstanding Achievement Award, and in May of 2003 it was named one of the top three regional theaters in the country by Time magazine. Founded by Robert Brustein in 1980, the A.R.T. during its 30-year history has performed throughout the U.S. and worldwide, and has welcomed many major American and international theater artists, presenting a diverse repertoire that includes new American plays, bold reinterpretations of classical texts and provocative new music Theater Productions. In 2009, the A.R.T. welcomed its new Artistic Director, Diane Paulus. Armed with the A.R.T.’s mission to expand the boundaries of theater, Paulus and her team have engaged thousands of new theatergoers at performances of Sleep No More, The Donkey Show, Gatz, Best of Both Worlds, Johnny Baseball, Cabaret, The Blue Flower, Prometheus Bound, and Death and the Powers as well as festivals like Emerging America. Critics and audiences have embraced the immersive environments that have become hallmarks of A.R.T. productions. The Theater has broadened its focus to include the audience’s total experience, providing them with a sense of ownership in the theatrical event. Initiatives like the A.R.T.’s new club theater OBERON, which Paulus calls a “Second Stage for the 21st century,” is an example of one initiative that has not only become an incubator for local artists but also has attracted national attention as a groundbreaking model for programming. Through all of its work, the A.R.T. is committed to building a community of artists, technicians, educators, staff and audience, all of who are integral to the A.R.T.’s core mission of expanding the boundaries of theater.

The balance of the 2011-12 A.R.T. season includes THREE PIANOS by Rick Burkhardt, Alec Duffy and Dave Malloy, with music from Franz Schubert's Winterreise, Op. 89, D911 (1828), directed by Rachel Chavkin (Loeb Drama Center • December 7 – January 8, 2012); AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare, featuring members of The A.R.T. /MXAT Institute for Advanced Theater Training Class of 2012 (Loeb Drama Center • January 13 – January 28); the world premiere of WILD SWANS by Jung Chang, adapted by Alexandra Wood, directed by Sacha Wares (Loeb Drama Center • February 11 – March 11); and the world premiere of FUTURITY: A Musical by The Lisps, with music and lyrics by César Alvarez with The Lisps; book by Molly Rice and César Alvarez; directed by Sarah Benson (Oberon • March 16 – April 15); and WOODY SEZ, with words and music by Woody Guthrie, devised by David M. Lutken with Nick Corley (Loeb Drama Center • May 5 – May 26).

The Loeb Drama Center, located at 64 Brattle Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, is accessible to persons with special needs and to those requiring wheelchair seating or first-floor restrooms. Deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons can also reach the theater by calling the toll-free N.E. Telephone Relay Center at 1-800-439-2370.

For further information call 617-547-8300 or visit http://www.americanrepertorytheater.org

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