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Review Roundup: The Gershwin's PORGY & BESS on Broadway - All the Reviews!

The Gershwins' PORGY AND BESS opened tonight, Thursday, January 12th, 2012 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre starring Audra McDonald as Bess, Norm Lewis as Porgy and David Alan Grier as Sporting Life. Let's see what the critics had to say!

Following its sold-out world premiere engagement at Boston's American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), the creative team, led by Tony-nominated director Diane Paulus, also includes Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, and two-time Obie Award-winning composer Diedre L. Murray, choreographer Ronald K. Brown, set designer Riccardo Hernandez, costume designer ESosa, lighting designer Christopher Akerlind and sound designer Acme Sound Partners.

The A.R.T. production of The Gershwins' PORGY AND BESS is produced by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel and Rebecca Gold.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times:But there’s a catch. Ms. McDonald’s Bess is — in a word — great; the show in which she appears is, at best, just pretty good. She and (the robust and intimidating) Mr. Boykin inhabit a world of exalted, dangerous passions that is separate from the rest of the denizens of Catfish Row...The enduring and magnetic appeal of Gershwin’s score is undeniable. It is pleasantly sung and played here. (William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke did the new orchestrations; Constantine Kitsopolous is the music director and conductor.) Yet even theatergoers unfamiliar with “Porgy and Bess” may sense a thinness in the music. The big spiritual choral numbers should storm the gates of heaven; here they sound pretty but defeated and earthbound, like angels shorn of their wings.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: The show proves an especially winning vehicle for leading lady Audra McDonald. Where her dramatic soprano has seemed a little heavy or stiff in other musical-theater roles, she invests Bess' songs with both technical authority and a fluid, full-bodied sense of character that extends to her spoken lines. Tracing the drug-addled Bess' attempt to turn her life around under Porgy's loving guidance, McDonald is by turns tender and crass, droll and desperate, and always wrenchingly human. As Porgy, the less-celebrated Norm Lewis is a revelation. That the character walks with a cane here, rather than using the traditional goat cart, only emphasizes the contrast between his lame body and his bursting heart. Hobbling toward McDonald or carefully leaning in to embrace her, Lewis' eyes burn with a soulful urgency that matches his robust baritone.

David Rooney, Reuters / Hollywood Reporter: The Bottom Line. Boldly reinterpreted and performed with spectacular feeling, this revival brings an American masterwork back to blazing dramatic life.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg News: Arrogantly trimming, reshuffling and “clarifying” what George and Ira Gershwin and the barely credited DuBose and Dorothy Heyward created, Paulus has so truncated the show that it plays like a soap opera. There’s little room for breathing. Only Bess -- thanks to McDonald -- comes wholly to life. She and Lewis make “Porgy and Bess” a must-see, its flaws notwithstanding.

Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: It ought to be good news that "Porgy and Bess" is back on Broadway for the first time in 35 years. Sad to say, the new version, which is billed by express order of the Gershwin brothers' estates as "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess," is a sanitized, heavily cut rewrite that strips away the show's essence so as to render it suitable for consumption by 21st-century prigs. If you've never seen or heard "Porgy," you might well find this version blandly pleasing. Otherwise, you'll be appalled.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press:  Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis lead this reconception of life in Depression-era Catfish Row and the fact that subtle changes have been made are clear as soon as Lewis appears using a cane to navigate across the stage with his malformed, twisted left leg – and not the goat cart of old. Purists upset to hear about this artistic travesty – good grief, no goat cart?! – should leave the theater immediately. The rest of us can then sit back and enjoy a first-rate cast give life to one of America's greatest love triangles and hear beautiful songs such as "Summertime" and "Bess, You Is My Woman Now."

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