BWW Reviews: The Gershwins' PORGY AND BESS Reaches a New Audience

BWW Reviews: "The Gershwins' "PORGY and BESS" - REACHES A "NEW" AUDIENCE

Music by George Gershwin

Libretto and Lyrics by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward

Lyrics by Ira Gershwin

Based on DuBose Heyward's novel "Porgy"

Libretto adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks Musical Score adapted by Diedre L. Murray Orchestrations by William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke Choreographed by Ronald K. Brown Direction by Diane Paulus

January 14, 2014 at 7:30P.M.

The Gershwins' "PORGY and BESS" opened to a full house at the STRAZ Center's Carol Morsani Hall in Tampa.

"PORGY and BESS", was first performed in 1935 at the Colonial Theatre in Boston and has received several revivals over the years. Now, 79 years after the original premier, is the latest incarnation of a new, slimmed down version, of the opera masterpiece, now a Broadway musical theatre adaptation, reaching a new audience of patrons, who may otherwise never attend an Opera.

The latest production, The Gershwins' "PORGY and BESS", ran on Broadway through September of 2012, playing 322 performances, 17 more than the 1953 revival, making it the longest-running production of "PORGY and BESS" to date. It was nominated for 10 Tony awards winning Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Audra McDonald).

The heartbreaking love story takes place in (the fabled), Catfish Row and Kittawah Island, in Charleston, South Carolina in the 1930's. The scandalous, drug addicted Bess, turns to the brave, yet physically challenged beggar, Porgy; to escape her imposing, abusive lover, Crown.

The lights dimmed and the overture began. The big, symphonic, orchestral sound that I was expecting, was adapted into an essence of the original version. The curtain went up to a minimalistic, unit set and raked stage. "Less is more...", "uh...I don't know about that in this scenario".

I knew at this very moment, that I needed to adjust any preconceived expectations that I had, before the show started. I reminded myself, that this was indeed, a "New" version of the Grand Opera Masterpiece.

The singing began, with the immortal, "Summertime". The score is filled with classic, Gershwin songs including "I Got Plenty of Nothing", "Bess, You is my Woman Now", 'It Ain't Necessarily So", and "I Loves You, Porgy".
After a slow start, the momentum of the show appropriately picked up, building to a powerful finale. The simplistic set design by Riccardo Hernandez, served as a backdrop to an innovative and exhilarating lighting design, by Christopher Akerlind. The use of shadows was particularly impressive and added a great deal to the mood and atmosphere of the piece.

The cast has extraordinary, well trained, operatic voices. However, the challenge that I experienced, (and I am not the only one), was not being able to understand a great deal of the lyrics and dialogue, to the mostly sung performance. As in Opera, it appears that tonal quality (which was exceptional), was prioritized over diction. I only wish there were the projected, captioned libretto, (subtitles used in most operas), allowing the audience to easily follow the script.

That said, there were a few exceptions....

The Men:
Nathanial Stampley gives "life" to his portrayal of Porgy, in an outstanding performance. His rich, baritone voice, is warm and clear; and his diction...flawless. Mr. Stampley's acting was honest, believable...superb. And his rendition of "I Got Plenty of Nothing" was a show highlight.

As the villainous Crown, Alvin Crawford commands the stage. His mere presence demands your attention. Mr Crawford gives an unforgettable, riveting performance. Every move, every word, every lyric was clear and focused. He made lesser known Gershwin songs, "What You Want With Bess" and "A Red Headed Woman", ...memorable.

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Jimmy Ferraro Jimmy Ferraro is an Award Winning Actor and “Theatre Veteran”. His professional career spans over 40 years in every aspect of show business. Ferraro’s credits as a producer and director of over 100 productions in New York and around the country, and as an author, are an outgrowth of his decades as a professional performer throughout the U.S. and overseas, including Broadway, National Tours, Off-Broadway and regional theatre. He was hand picked by Director/ Choreographer Jerome Robbins, for "Fiddler on the Roof" on Broadway and in the National Tours. He most recently starred as Tevye in the 2012 National Tour of "Fiddler" and won Best Actor in a Musical from Ferraro's numerous awards in the performing arts include, Top Ten Professional Achievers in Tampa Bay, Outstanding Young Man of America, Who’s Who in Entertainment, and First Place in the Miami Opera Vocal Competition. His many charitable awards include the prestigious National Philanthropy Day Award, along with performing in benefits for Alzheimer’s Family Organization, American Heart Foundation, A Child’s Wish Come True Foundation, Hospice, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and All Children’s Hospital. Jimmy hosted his own radio show, “Theatre Chat and This ‘n That,” interviewing Major Celebrity Stars from Broadway, Television, and Film.

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