Court Theatre Presents PORGY AND BESS 5/12-6/19


Court Theatre Artistic Director Charles Newell and Executive Director Stephen J. Albert present the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, directed by Artistic Director Charles Newell, with Artistic Consultant Ron OJ Parson and Music Direction by Doug Peck. Porgy and Bess will run May 12-June 19, 2011 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue. Press Opening is Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 8PM.

"When I went back to read the original source material for Porgy and Bess-the 1925 novel by DuBose Heyward and the subsequent stage play-I discovered that I had underestimated the complex storytelling of Porgy and Bess, which is often overshadowed by George Gershwin's fabulous music," says Newell. "When I went even further back to learn about the Gullah community of South Carolina, I discovered that this piece has an emotional heart, a spirituality even, that I never thought possible. In Court's production-guided by Doug, Ron, and the cast-we are looking to avoid the kind of mistakes people often make with Gershwin's opera, while rediscovering a kind of spirituality to Porgy and Bess that will surprise audience members who thought they knew this piece."

Porgy and Bess remains George Gershwin's magnum opus, with an unforgettable score that includes songs ("Summertime," "It Ain't Necessarily So") later recorded by popular musicians from Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald. Coming off their 2008 Jeff Award-winning production of Caroline, or Change, Charles Newell and Doug Peck come face-to-face with one of the greatest-and most controversial-pieces of American musical theater ever created. Often denounced as a racially insensitive portrayal of black southerners, Newell and Peck, in collaboration with Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson, will present a thoughtful, never-before-seen retelling of the Gershwins' and Heywards' "folk opera" Porgy and Bess, a classic but contested piece of American theater history.

"I'm an opera person and a music theater person living in the same body, so for me Porgy and Bess at Court Theatre is a dream project. Other people are more concerned with the question of, ‘What is musical? What is opera?' than I am. I look to Stephen Sondheim who says an opera is in an opera house and a musical is in a music theater house. So, by definition, we are doing a theater piece because we are performing in a theater," said Peck during the first rehearsal for Porgy and Bess. "That doesn't mean that at moments we won't sing operatically. That doesn't mean that at moments we won't sing in a jazz way, or a folk way, or a music theater belty way, or even a completely untrained way. What's so great about this piece is that there are so many musical worlds in it."

Porgy and Bess features an all-Chicago cast, including Alexis Rogers (The Piano Lesson) as Bess and Todd M. Kryger (Disney's The Lion King, Ragtime, Showboat) as Porgy. The 15-person cast also includes Bear Bellinger (Peter), Sean Blake (Sportin' Life), Wydetta Carter (Maria), Matt Holzfeind (Archdale), James Earl Jones II (Crown), Joelle Lamarre (Lily), Brian-Alwyn Newland (Robbins), Harriet Nzinga Plumpp (Clara), Kelvin Roston, Jr. (Jim), Bethany Thomas (Serena), Travis Turner (Mingo), Adrienne Walker (Annie), and Byron Glenn Willis (Jake).

The Porgy and Bess orchestra features Doug Peck (Conductor / Piano), Nick Moran (Woodwinds), Brent Roman (Percussion), Chuck Bontrager (Violin/Viola), Christian Dillingham (Bass), and Stephen Orjudos (Trumpet/Flugelhorn).

The creative team includes John Culbert (scenic design), Jacqueline Firkins (costume design), Brian H. Scott (lighting design), Joshua Horvath (sound design) and Drew Dir (dramaturg). The Production Stage Manager is Sara Gammage. The Stage Manager is William Collins.

Charles Newell (Director) has been Artistic Director of Court Theatre since 1994, where he has directed over 30 productions. He made his Chicago directorial debut in 1993 with The Triumph of Love, which won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Production. Directorial highlights at Court include Three Tall Women, The Year of Magical Thinking, The Wild Duck, Caroline, Or Change, Titus Andronicus, Arcadia, Man of La Mancha, Uncle Vanya, Raisin, The Glass Menagerie, Travesties, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Hamlet, The Invention of Love, The Little Foxes, Nora, and The Misanthrope. Charlie has also directed at the Goodman Theatre (Rock ‘n' Roll), the Guthrie Theater (Resident Director: The History Cycle, Cymbeline), Arena Stage, John Houseman's The Acting Company (Staff Repertory Director), the California and Alabama Shakespeare Festivals, Juilliard, and New York University. He is the recipient of the 1992 TCG Alan Schneider Director Award. He has served on the Board of Theatre Communications Group, as well as on several panels for the National Endowment for the Arts. Opera directing credits include Marc Blitzstein's Regina at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Rigoletto at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Charlie is a multiple Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago's highest theatrical honor) nominee and recipient. Most recently, his production of Caroline, Or Change at Court was the recipient of 4 Joseph Jefferson Awards, including Best Production-Musical and Best Director-Musical.

Doug Peck (Music Director) is always happy to come home to Court Theatre. The winner of four Jeff Awards for Best Musical Direction, his work has also been heard at Goodman Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre DC, Long Wharf Theatre, Writers' Theatre, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, Apple Tree Theatre, Northlight Theatre, TimeLine Theatre Company, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Porchlight Music Theatre, Peninsula Players Theatre, and Ravinia Festival. Favorite productions include Caroline, or Change; Carousel; Man of La Mancha; Animal Crackers; Candide; Fiorello!; Oh, Coward!; Fiddler on the Roof; Shenandoah; Cabaret; Wings; Hello Again; Guys and Dolls; Grey Gardens; The Most Happy Fella; and Into the Woods. Peck can be heard on the following CDs: Bright Young People: The Songs of Noël Coward, Foiled Again: Live, and Frank Galati and Stephen Flaherty's Loving Repeating: A Musical of Gertrude Stein. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peck also trained at Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Ron OJ Parson (Artistic Consultant) is the cofounder and former Artistic Director of the Onyx Theatre Ensemble of Chicago, and is currently the Resident Artist at Court Theatre. He has worked with such Chicago theatres as Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Northlight Theatre, Black Ensemble Theatre, eta Creative Arts Foundation, Chicago Theatre Company, Eclipse Theatre Company, Congo Square Theatre Company, City Lit Theater Company, Urban Theater Company, Writers' Theatre, and a variety of arts in education programs. Regionally, Ron has directed at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Portland Stage Company, Virginia Stage Company, Pittsburgh Public Theater, Madison Repertory Theatre, Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, Signature Theatre Company in New York City, Centerstage in Baltimore, and the world premiere of Palmer Park at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada. Most recently, he directed August Wilson's Two Trains Running at Geva Theatre in Rochester, New York. For Court Theatre, Ron has directed Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson and Fences, The First Breeze of Summer, Wait Until Dark, Flyin' West, last year's season finale Sizwe Banzi is Dead, and this season's Home. Ron also recently directed The Old Settler at Writers' Theatre. Ron recently remounted his production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom at Actors Theatre of Louisville and Milwaukee Repertory this season. He is a proud member of Actors' Equity Association and SDC, the stage directors' union.
Previews are May 12 - May 20, 2011. The opening press performance is on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 8:00 p.m. Curtain times are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 3 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Ticket prices are $35 to $45 for preview performances; $45 to $65 for regular run performances. Tickets are available at the Box Office, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago; (773) 753-4472 or online at Student and senior discounts available. Groups of 10 or more may purchase tickets by calling Milan Pejnovich at (773) 834-3243.

Porgy and Bess is supported by corporate sponsor Allstate, season sponsor Hyde Park Bank and foundation sponsor The Joyce Foundation. Support for the "Classics in Context" Series is provided by the Illinois Humanities Council.

Special Events for The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess:
Gershwin Gala
A University Symphony Orchestra Concert
Saturday, April 23
8:00 pm
Mandel Hall, 1131 E 57th St
For one night only, the University of Chicago's 100-piece symphony orchestra performs the music of George Gershwin, including selections from Porgy and Bess. Conducted by USO Director Barbara Schubert, audience members will have the rare opportunity to hear the full symphonic sound of Gershwin's compositions performed by University of Chicago students and faculty and featured vocalists from the cast of Court Theatre's Porgy and Bess. FREE ADMISSION
Porgy and Bess: 1925-2011 Exhibit
DuSable Museum of African-American History, 740 E 56th Pl
April 29, 2011 - July 3, 2011

The exhibit Porgy and Bess: 1925 - 2011 at the DuSable Museum of African-American History explores the 85-year history of the Gershwin opera, beginning with DuBose Heyward's novel about the Charleston Gullah community to the opera's Cold War tour behind the Iron Curtain to the 1959 film starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge. Told through coverage from the Chicago Defender and the words of luminaries like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, Porgy and Bess: 1925 - 2011 sheds new light on a controversial piece of American history.

Classic Conversations: Porgy and Bess Discussion Series
Every Sunday at 5:30 (following the matinee performance of Porgy and Bess at Court Theatre)
May 29 - June 19, 2011

Court Theatre's robust post-show discussion series during the run of Porgy and Bess will offer audiences a unique look into the world of the opera from a number of perspectives. Each Sunday at 5:00 PM (following the 2:30 PM matinee performance), Resident Dramaturg and University of Chicago lecturer Drew Dir will be joined by a different guest artist or scholar to examine the history, music, politics, or performance of the Gershwins' seminal American classic. Audiences will gain exclusive access to some of the most brilliant minds in Chicago, and patron comments and questions will become part of the discourse. Conversations will begin immediately after every Sunday matinee performance, last approximately 30 minutes, and are free and open to all. FREE ADMISSION

DOC Films series: "White on Black: Hollywood and Black Cinema"
Max Palevsky Cinema, The University of Chicago, 1212 E 59th St
Tuesdays, March 29, 2011 - May 31, 2011

The controversial 1959 MGM film of Porgy and Bess was just one of the many all-black cast musicals made by Hollywood in the decades leading up to the civil rights movement. This Tuesday night DOC Films series will feature classic all-black cast films by both white and black filmmakers, including Hallelujah!, Go Down Death, The Emperor Jones, and Stormy Weather.

Post-show discussions with Court Theatre's Resident Dramaturg Drew Dir will follow each screening. All films presented in 35 or 16mm.

Now in its 56th season, Court Theatre is guided by its mission to discover the power of classic theatre. Court endeavors to make a lasting contribution to American theatre by expanding the canon of translations, adaptations, and classic texts. Court revives lost masterpieces, illuminates familiar texts, and distinguishes fresh, modern classics. Court engages and inspires its audience by providing artistically distinguished productions, audience enrichment activities, and student educational experiences.

Court Theatre is the professional theatre in residence at the University of Chicago continuing to discover the power of classic theatre. Court Theatre operates under an agreement between the League of Resident Theatres and Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. Productions are made possible in part by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and by a City Arts grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. Court Theatre is a constituent of Theatre Communications Group, the national organization for the American Theatre; the League of Resident Theatres; the Illinois Humanities Council; the Arts Alliance Illinois; the League of Chicago Theatres; and Hyde Park Cultural Alliance.

Title: The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Directed by: Charles Newell
Music & Lyrics by: George and Ira Gershwin
Libretto: DuBose and Dorothy Heyward
Musical Direction by: Doug Peck

May 12 - May 20, 2011
Press opening:
Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 8 PM
Regular run:
May 22 - June 19, 2011

Wednesdays & Thursdays: 7:30 p.m.
Fridays: 8:00 p.m.
Saturdays: 3:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m.
Sundays: 2:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.

Location: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.
Tickets: $35-$45 previews
$45-$65 regular run
Box Office: Located at 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago; (773) 753-4472 or online

Porgy and Bess Notes of Interest:
Court Theatre's production of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess marks Artistic Director Charles Newell's eighth collaboration with Music Director Doug Peck, past productions include Caroline, or Change and Carousel.

Porgy and Bess is a folk opera with music by George Gershwin, libretto by Dubose Heyward, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. The Gershwins' musical was based on DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy and his subsequent play Porgy and Bess which DuBose co-wrote with his wife Dorothy Heyward. All three works deal with African American life in the fictitious Catfish Row, based on the real life Cabbage Row in Charleston, South Carolina in the early 1920s.
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess premiered on Broadway in 1935 at the Alvin Theatre with an all African-American cast. Both music and theater critics attended, as did many film stars including Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford.

The 1959 film version of Porgy and Bess starring Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis, Jr., Diahann Carol, and Pearl Bailey was directed by Otto Preminger. The film received four Academy Award nominations, won the Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical, and garnered nominations for Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge, neither of whom won. The film's original soundtrack album won the Grammy for Best Soundtrack. Despite its critical success, the film was not commercially successful. Samuel Goldwyn's lease to the film rights expired in 1974 and the film has never been officially released on video.

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