Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down

RippedMan
Broadway Legend
joined:8/14/05
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/2/12 at 11:40pm
I know I'm a little late to the game, but I was underwhelmed. I thought all the actors were brilliant, and I loved the sense of community and how comfortable everyone felt with each other, and their commitment to the material. But I just could not get on board with the show. I almost feel bad saying it, but it felt very "slight" to me. Maybe it's the fact that they lost 2 1/2hrs of additional material, but I just did not feel like I knew the characters at all. I know Porgy was a beggar and a cripple, but that's it. I know Bess is a slut who wants to escape her horrible life. That's about it.

I liked the directing in parts, but I hated having all the different musical buttons in the show. I felt like some of the numbers were either too short, or too inconsequential to deserve a button. I would have preferred some of the songs to melt into each other a bit more.

The design was so Urban Outfitters. I kept waiting for something to change, and it never did. The hurricane scene was kind of neat, but the fact that the "island" is just a blue sheet is kind of a let down. I was hoping for something a little more creative.

Norm and Audra were great with Audra, of course, inching him out.

What did you all think? Am I missing something or is it, because it once was an opera and opera is essentially built on melodrama, just how it has always been? I thought the music was gorgeous in parts, but I felt like there were so many times when multiple people would be singing different melody lines that I could not understand what anyone was saying and therefore I was missing out on character development, etc. But maybe I wasn't.
whatever2
Broadway Legend
joined:8/25/06
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/2/12 at 11:54pm
RippedMan: saw this a week ago, and largely agree. performances ... check; music ... check; great night of theater ... not-so-much.

one of my friends (the most occasional theater-goer of our foursome) said: i just never found myself caring about anyone. i think there's something to that observation -- quite possibly the shaving and the trimming left the characters under-developed.

also, the pace of the music in the first 20 minutes was positively aerobic.

i will say all the sturm und drang about the additions that had so many of our knickers in a know last fall amounted to naught, imho -- those tweaks were *not* this production's problem.

still, worth the price of admission to hear audra!!!
"You, sir, are a moron." (PlayItAgain)
RippedMan
Broadway Legend
joined:8/14/05
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/3/12 at 12:00am
Yeah, but I thought all the dialogue was suppose to help "define" the characters...but they weren't. I thought the dialogue and music worked together well, but it still didn't leave me with a story I wanted to care about. I just thought a lot of the plot points were so obvious. Like "oh, watch out, a storm is brewing" pan to an hour later when they leave to go on a boat during a storm...I mean you know who is going to die.
iluvtheatertrash
Broadway Legend
joined:11/9/04
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/3/12 at 12:42am
SPOILER: Jake's death is just as obvious in the opera.
"I know now that theatre saved my life." - Susan Stroman
dancingthrulife04
Broadway Legend
joined:10/15/04
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/3/12 at 11:14am
I am so glad to read this. Thought I was the only one who felt this way about it.
http://www.beintheheights.com/katnicole1 (Please click and help me win!) I chose, and my world was shaken- So what?
The choice may have been mistaken, The choosing was not...
"Every day has the potential to be the greatest day of your life." - Lin-Manuel Miranda
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PalJoey
Broadway Legend
joined:3/11/04
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/3/12 at 03:22pm
That's really the shame of this production: that the people involved with guiding did not seem to have a clue as to the vastness and the hugeness and the greatness of it.

By focusing only on how they were going to "fix" the long-debated flaws of the piece, they missed entirely the elements that over the decades have won people over to the greatness of the piece.

And, in the end, of course, they didn't really fix anything.

RippedMan, do you yourself a favor sometime and listen to the Houston Grand Opera recording and you'll get more of a sens of what many of us who saw that production in its various incarnations loved about it.
yr pal,
joey




Blocked so far: suestorm, Master Bates
Gypsy9
Broadway Legend
joined:5/27/06
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/3/12 at 04:22pm
I saw the Houston Grand Opera production of PORGY & BESS on Broadway in the 1970's and it was phenomenal. For the reasons stated by Pal Joey, I will not be let down because I will refuse to go to the current production, despite the wonderful Audra McDonald. I have two recordings that I love and for now that will have to suffice.

EDIT: I should add that the "new orchestrations" further harm this current production. Why couldn't they have left Gershwin alone?!
"Madam Rose...and her daughter...Gypsy!"
Updated On: 3/3/12 at 04:22 PM
Gaveston2
Broadway Legend
joined:6/28/11
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/3/12 at 04:41pm
I too was simply blown away by the Houston Grand Opera production and wouldn't have shortened it by a minute.

What have they done to make Bess, Porgy and Sportin' Life "two-dimensional"? I don't remember that being a problem.
RippedMan
Broadway Legend
joined:8/14/05
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/3/12 at 07:34pm
To me the characters came off even more wooden and boring. But that's just me.

I'm hoping, at least, that this production will turn one The Met or someone into doing a big production of the complete opera in the near future. I'd love to see it how it's suppose to be done, instead of on the cheap.
Gaveston2
Broadway Legend
joined:6/28/11
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/3/12 at 09:36pm
I haven't seen the current production and I don't know you, RippedMan, so I'm only going by what you post. But you seem to be asking for a degree of psychological realism that really isn't the province of musical theater.

In musical theater, including but not exclusive to opera, the spoken and sung words are only half the text; the other half is the music and it provides information about the characters that an Ibsen or Williams can only provide with spoken words.

So musical/operatic characters don't have fewer dimensions than realistic characters, their dimensions are just revealed by a different medium.

But perhaps if the music has been stripped down for this production, the result was that some of the characterization was lost as well.
henrikegerman
Broadway Legend
joined:4/29/05
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/3/12 at 11:02pm
I saw the matinee today and enjoyed it. But while Norm Lewis brings beauty and dignity to the role, he rarely brings enough passion.
iluvtheatertrash
Broadway Legend
joined:11/9/04
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/3/12 at 11:27pm
I went Wednesday night, expecting to hate it. As a playwright, I found a lot of the "talk" disturbing. But I was moved. Even the overture made me cry. I'd never heard it live, though it wasn't ideal.

It snuck up on me. The three leads are extraordinary. Audra and Grier specifically... The ensemble is sharp and focused. And I cared deeply, though I think that credit is due the performers and not the revised libretto. I can completely see and agree with your points on this. But I attached myself and was very moved.

Surprised me quite a bit.
"I know now that theatre saved my life." - Susan Stroman
Gaveston2
Broadway Legend
joined:6/28/11
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/4/12 at 04:32am
I saw the matinee today and enjoyed it. But while Norm Lewis brings beauty and dignity to the role, he rarely brings enough passion.

Ouch, henrik! As I'm sure you knew going in, it's Porgy's passion that drives the plot.
NoHSMisNotAMusical
Stand-by
joined:10/21/11
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/4/12 at 11:18am
The King of the Musical Theatre Gods, Stephen Sondheim, cursed this production.
henrikegerman
Broadway Legend
joined:4/29/05
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/4/12 at 11:38am
Actually, Gaveston, as I don't know Porgy and Bess all that well (I know the score and have seen Nunn/Rattle's production many years go on tv) it was only yesterday that I came to that conclusion. Indeed, you are, as usual, right on target.

For everything to click, Porgy's passion is paramount. Lewis's passion only rises in isolated chunks. And this deficit is all the more evident because he is playing opposite McDonald who is extraordinary. Just one example: I've Got Plenty never soars. He simply looks like a happy guy who has found a girlfriend. Not an operatic hero in love. HIs triumph defending Bess against Crown and his resolve to leave Catfish Row to find her need to be sustained by this kind of raw power, joy and love. And they just weren't there.

Whether the production lost sight of this somehow, or whether Porgy is intended here as a more mature even-headed guy, I can't say. But it doesn't really work.

Still, there is a great deal to admire in this production and I certainly cared about Lewis's Porgy, the other characters and the community. This really is the performance of McDonald's career. Fireworks go off during her second act struggles with Crown and Sportin' LIfe (Boykin and Grier are both sensational). What she achieve in her final scene (here and elsewhere are signs that Parks and Paulus deserve some high marks) is transcendent in its gripping portrayal of addiction.


Updated On: 3/4/12 at 11:38 AM
RippedMan
Broadway Legend
joined:8/14/05
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/4/12 at 02:56pm
I don't think I'm asking too much of anything. I'm just asking for a story that's exciting and interesting. And I think the story could be exciting and interesting, but when you strip it down to it's essentials it doesn't leave much to be excited about.
Gaveston2
Broadway Legend
joined:6/28/11
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/4/12 at 03:22pm
RippedMan, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pass judgment on whether you are asking "too much". You buy the ticket; you are entitled to want what you want and I certainly wasn't knocking you for that.

But like a lot of operas and musical dramas, PORGY AND BESS has a relatively simple story full of bold actions so that the singers have lots of emotions to sing about. Compare it to PHANTOM: sure POTO has a couple of chase scenes, but its plot steps are relatively few. P&B has a hurricane, a killing and Sportin' Life's "seduction" of Bess. (And one might note that compared to the average Sondheim musical (excepting WOODS), both shows are chock-full of action.)

PORGY is more concerned with musicalizing the world of Catfish Row than it is with creating a suspenseful plot.

Maybe that isn't your cup of tea or maybe this production has screwed it up. Either way, I didn't mean to criticize you for having an opinion.
Gaveston2
Broadway Legend
joined:6/28/11
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/4/12 at 03:32pm
What a shame, henrik, because Bess gets the vocal pyrotechnics, Sportin' Life gets the laughs, but Porgy carries the story. Given the performance you describe, MacDonald deserves a Porgy that keeps the play moving forward.

I wonder about the effect of giving Porgy back his legs. A lot of Porgy's passion arises out of frustration because he can't be a "real man" (until he shows that he is one by protecting Bess). Taking his legs from him is a sort of symbolic castration that walking with a cane doesn't really approximate. As you may recall, "I Got Plenty of Nuthin'" is all the more triumphant when sung by a man who can't walk.

As you note, Porgy isn't just a guy who gets a girlfriend. He's an embittered social bottom dweller who is brought back to life and manhood through love and his renewed ability to make love (symbolically and literally) to his woman.

All the same, I look forward to the recording, stripped-down orchestrations notwithstanding.
PalJoey
Broadway Legend
joined:3/11/04
Porgy & Bess: I Was Let Down
Posted: 3/4/12 at 08:10pm
RippedMan--invest 3 hours in listening to the Houston Grand Opera recording, and I guarantee you will come away having had an experience that was both "exciting and interesting."
yr pal,
joey




Blocked so far: suestorm, Master Bates