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

January 13
8:56 2012

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."

Scott Brown, New York Magazine: But that's exactly what makes this Porgy so powerful: It's a show about leaving Catfish Row, about making the great leap from the smothering bosom of the old South into the dark void of the twentieth century. When Porgy took his first shuddering steps into that abyss, I felt a tide behind me: An audience absolutely rapt, ravished by two hours of one of the greatest scores ever written for the American theater, wanting nothing more than to follow that crooked figure into the black. Goat or no goat, that's tragedy at its most triumphant.

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: In the end, though, this is an approachable and heartfelt version of Porgy and Bess that showcases George Gershwin's glorious melodies and the bottomless talents of McDonald. Her Bess is a complex, three-dimensional figure both classic and contemporary, the stuff of Greek tragedy and of countless Lifetime movies. She's a scarred woman who defines herself by the men in her life — men who are too often abusive bullies. And when she encounters a big-hearted man worthy of her affections, she has too little self-esteem to assert her heart's truest desires or think herself worthy of her good fortune. And as played by McDonald with the full force of her vocal and acting abilities, Bess becomes an unforgettable and iconic American character. Bess, you is all of our woman now. B+

Steve Suskin, Variety: When Audra McDonald joins Norm Lewis in singing "I Loves You, Porgy," their duet will thrill "Porgy and Bess" newcomers and purists alike. But when McDonald delivers a newly devised reprise of "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York" to her baby while snorting cocaine, theatergoers with a knowledge of the original will roll their eyes. This new Broadway version is a re-envisioned and streamlined version of the 1935 folk opera with smudgy fingerprints affixed; McDonald and Lewis make it reasonably entertaining, but this "Porgy Lite" is not nearly as electrifying as the real thing....Paulus' "Porgy and Bess" might be more economically feasible than Gershwin and DuBose Heyward's original, but it seems unlikely to supplant that version. The creatives have determinedly removed the majestic quality from Gershwin's music, a wrongheaded starting point for a production that non-aficionados may find moderately entertaining, but never as thrilling or enthralling as "Porgy and Bess" needs to be.

Michael Sommers, NJ Newsroom: Certainly the show is a must-see due to Audra McDonald’s beautifully sung and fiercely acted portrayal of Bess. Sporting a scar on her cheek, fire in her eyes and plenty of star power, McDonald fleshes out a believably human portrait of a flawed, fallen woman struggling to get back on her feet. Extra thrills that McDonald delivers include her spooky rendition of “Leaving for the Promised Land” and a deeply-felt “I Loves You, Porgy.”

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