BWW Review: A Stunning PORGY AND BESS With the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Morgan State University Choir

It what was surely one of the highlights of the year was the BSO's semi-staged version of PORGY AND BESS. The roof of the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall almost exploded with the reception the BSO musicians and the talented array of performers received.

It was a nice touch for the audience that "sur titles" were used, a typical addition for most operas so that each lyric could be understood. I also noticed for the first time that there were television monitors on each side of the hall for the performers who were in front of Conductor Alsop and could follow her direction without turning around. This is common on almost all Broadway productions.

The Morgan Stage University Choir (directed by Eric Conway) not only sang beautifully, they often seemed to be acting as well. They were swaying to the music, laughing when appropriate, clapping, and even dancing with incredible energy. The entire success of the evening was due to the splendid direction of the BSO by Maestra Alsop and to the splendid direction of Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah who did a masterly job working with all the performers and making PORGY AND BESS come alive. He had actors coming up the aisles and wearing contemporary clothing.

The soloists were just plain outstanding: Derrick Parker as "Porgy", Laquita Mitchell as "Bess", Larry D. Hylton as "Sportin' Life", Lester Lynch as "Crown", Onadek Winan as "Clara", and Leah Hawkins as "Maria". The cast and superb chorus did not just stand on stage and sing, they actually "acted" their roles convincingly with the essential props.

I look forward to many more such events in the future.

A nice touch was that each patron received a lovely bookmark featuring a photo of Anne Brown, "Baltimore's Bess" who performed as "Bess" in the original production in 1935. While in Baltimore, she trained at Morgan College (now Morgan State University) but was rejected by the Peabody Institute due to her race. However, she did attend New York's Julliard School becoming one of their first Black vocal students.

For you PORGY AND BESS fans, check out a performance of PORGY AND BESS with National Symphony Orchestra June 17 and 18 at the Kennedy Center. It will feature Broadway star Norm Lewis and Alicia Hall.

Kwei-Armah continues his relationship with the BSO next season when he narrates the wonderful Aaron Copland classic "Lincoln Portrait" the week-end of Feb. 16, 2017. The program also features Barbar's "
Symphony No.1 and Dvorak's "Cello Concerto" with Johannes Moser, all under the baton of Maestra Alsop. Mark your calendars now.

Other highlights next season include Gershwin's "An American in Paris" (still going strong on
Broadway) on June 2 and 4 and another Broadway themed concert Oct. 7-9 with "Broadway's Leading Men" with SuperPops Conductor Jack Everly.

HAIRSPRAY with host John Waters returns to the BSO. It will feature Laura Marie Rondinella as Tracy. Returning from the fun 2013 cast are Paul Vogt as "Edna" and the incomparable Beth Leavel as "Velma". Playing "Wilbur" is George Wendt, yes, from the hit television series "Cheers". The Baltimore School for the Arts Chorus under the direction of Mark Hardy will perform. Performances will be June 2 at Strathmore in Bethesda, and at the Meyerhoff there will be four performances, Friday, June 3 at 8, Saturday, June 4 at 3 and 8, and Sunday, June 5 at 3. This will surely be sold out AGAIN. Order your tickets by calling 410-783-8000 or visit www.BSOmusic.org.

BSO PRESENTS FREE CONCERT MAY 6 AT BETHEL A.M.E. CHURCH

The BSO is presenting a free concert Friday night, May 6 at the Bethel A.M.E. Church entitled "Symphony for the City". You may recall after last year's April unrest, the BSO gave a free concert in the park outside the Meyerhoff. Well, they are going all out on May 6. No tickets are required. Reverend Jimmie Thomas will serve as Narrator.

Music Director Marin Alsop leads the BSO, the Bethel AME Church Choir, BSYO and the BSO OrchKids in a free concert in recognition and admiration of the spirit of the citizens of Baltimore. Central to the concert is New Morning for the World by Joseph Schwantner, the narration comprised of public speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King that spanned more than a decade of his life. "In a world and country that can sometimes seem so divided," says Alsop, "the BSO strives to bring our neighbors together through our common language - music."

The program features:

Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
Forrest: "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands"
Dvo?ák: Adagio allegro molto from Symphony No. 9
Richard Smallwood: "Total Praise"
Joseph Schwantner: New Morning for the World
Johnson: "Lift Every Voice and Sing"
Bob Christianson: Hallelujah from Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah

Please Note: This is a free concert. Tickets will not be issued for this performance and seating is first come, first served. Early arrival is strongly encouraged. The concert will take place on 1300 Druid Hill Road, Baltimore, MD 21217.

THIS AND THAT

All this week , NBC's "The Today Show" is having BROADWAY WEEK.

Monday was new hit musical WAITRESS.

Tuesday was THE COLOR PURPLE.

Wednesday will be TUCK EVERLASTING (with Baltimore's Pippa Pearthree)

Thursday will be SHE LOVES ME.

Set your DVRs.

Finally, I highly recommend the Irish film "Sing Street" from the Director of "Once" and "Begin Again", Jonathan Carney. It is set in 1985 Dublin. The original music is so great I just ordered the CD. It also features the music of various hits from the '80s. It may remind you of the film and now Broadway show SCHOOL OF ROCK since it features young people starting a band. I can see "Sing Street" work as a Broadway musical.

Photo Credit: Charles Shubow

cgshubow@broadwayworld.com



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