Gershwins' Porgy & Bess: may not bow on B'way?




The New York Post reports that following Stephen Sondheim's panning of director Diane Paulus' re-imagination of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, the show will close after it's run in Cambridge, MA, and not come to Broadway. There has been no official announcement.

Controversy flowed around the production after composer Stephen Sondheim sent a letter to the New York Times on the 9 Aug 2011, panning the production.

In his letter Sondheim wrote:

"Ms Paulus says that in the opera you don't get to know the characters as people. Putting it kindly, that's wilful ignorance."

"These characters are as vivid as any ever created for the musical theatre, as has been proved over and over in productions that may have cut some dialogue and musical passages but didn't rewrite and distort them."

"I can hear the outraged cries now about stifling creativity and discouraging directors who want to reinterpret plays and musicals... but there is a difference between reinterpretation and wholesale rewriting."

"In the interest of truth in advertising, let it not be called 'The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess'," concluded Sondheim, in his letter. "Advertise it honestly as 'Diane Paulus's Porgy and Bess'. And the hell with the real one."

Director Diane Paulus was asked by the New York Times to respond to Sondheim's letter. She issued the following brief statement:

"The entire creative team and cast have the most enormous love and respect for ‘Porgy and Bess,’ and we are grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from the Gershwin and Heyward Estates for this production."

Whatever the merits of Sondheim's criticism it would seem his letter dealt a mortal blow to the production, which is now rumored to be shuttering after it's run at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess - music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, book by DuBose Heyward - has been re-imagined by A.R.T.'s Artistic Director Diane Paulus, Pulitzer prize-winning writer Suzan-Lori Parks, and two-time Obie winner Diedre Murray.

The show has been specifically created for Broadway and features a revised book in a musical theatre format and jazz-oriented musical arrangements.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is set in the 1930s in Catfish Row, a neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina. Bess, beautiful and troubled, turns to Porgy, the crippled beggar, in search of safety after her possessive lover Crown commits murder. As Porgy and Bess’s love grows, their future is threatened by Crown and the conniving Sporting Life.

The musical's score includes 'Summertime,' 'Bess, You Is My Woman,' 'It Ain’t Necessarily So' and 'I Loves You, Porgy.'

The newly re-imagined production premieres at the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.), playing from from 17 Aug 2011 through to 2 Oct 2011.

The American Repertory Theatre's production stars Audra McDonald (Bess), Norm Lewis (Porgy), David Alan Grier (Sportin' Life), Joshua Henry (Jake), Phillip Boykin (Crown), Natasha Yvette Williams (Maria), Nikki Renee Daniels (Clara), Bryonha Marie Parham (Serena), Cedric Neal (Frazier), J.D. Webste (Mingo, the Undertaker), Nathaniel Stampley (Robbins), Phumzile Sojala (Peter) and Heather Hill (Lily).

The creative team features choreographer Ronald K. Brown, set designer Riccardo Hernandez, costume designer Emilio Sosa, lighting designer Christopher Akerlind and sound designer Acme Sound Partners.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is based on DuBose Heyward's novel “Porgy” and the play of the same name, which he 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 Rainbow Row) in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1920s.

George Gershwin worked on Porgy and Bess in Charleston, SC and drew inspiration from the James Island Gullah community, which he felt had preserved some African musical traditions. The music itself reflects his New York jazz roots, but also draws on southern black traditions. Gershwin modeled the pieces after each type of folk song which the composer knew about; jubilees, blues, praying songs, street cries, work songs, and spirituals are blended with traditional arias and recitatives.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess first premiered at the Colonial Theatre in Boston on 30 Sep 1935. Broadway performances followed featuring a cast of classically trained African-American singers — a daring and visionary artistic choice at the time.

The musical was last revived on the Great White Way in 1983.

Producers Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel in association with the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.) first announced on the 29 Jun 2011 that The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess would open at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre on 12 Jan 2012, following previews from 17 Dec 2011.

Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis in
Diane Paulus' re-imagination of Porgy and Bess