“Summertime and the livin’ is easy.”
Those familiar with Porgy and Bess’s story of unlikely love, drug addiction and brutality amidst the slums of Charleston, S.C., know life for these characters is anything but easy. But the dignity and hope that radiates from the fictional community of Catfish Row brought a Washington, DC audience to its feet opening night in admiration for the strongly performed and enchanting national touring production of The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The Tony award-winning revival plays through December 29 at the historic National Theatre.
Much has already been written about director Diane Paulus’s reinvention of the classic American “folk opera” into something more palatable for contemporary musical theater audiences. The original has been whittled down from four hours to just over two and a half; spoken dialogue replaces operatic recitative; and the production has been updated with minor plot changes and Broadway-style razz-ma-tazz arrangements.
The hybrid result is strangely stirring. The mix of Gershwin’s melodic, 1930’s era jazz and blues orchestrations, with the resonant pitch and sway of southern black musical traditions blended with operatic arias and recitatives is unconventional and curiously compelling.
Alicia Hall Moran and Nathaniel Stampley lead an excellent cast in the difficult roles of Bess, a woman torn asunder, and the crippled, upstanding Porgy. Stampley’s warm baritone and Moran’s lofty soprano entwine in “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” and the exquisite “I Loves You, Porgy” duets. Moran plays Bess viscerally, and when she sings, that pent up fury becomes a powerful expression. Stampley’s singing voice is pliant and graceful, and his charming signature “I Got Plenty of Nothing” is won with an apparent ease.
The principals in this tragic saga are rounded out by baritone Alvin Crawford, as the imposing thug Crown and Kingsley Leggs as Sporting Life, the “lowlife buzzard” with cursed happiness for sale. The likable Sumayya Ali and the honey-voiced David Hughey as the lovely couple Clara and Jake shine center stage during the dance scenes and please with soothing renditions of “Summertime,” and “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing.”
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
Closes December 29, 2013
The National Theatre
1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
2 hours, 35 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $48 – $98
The love story of Porgy and Bess lives as a compromise between opera and musical theatre in this limited engagement production at the National Theatre, allowing audiences to experience an American classic in a new and exciting way.
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess . Music by George Gershwin, lyrics by DuBose Heyward, Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin, book adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks and musical score adapted by Diedre L. Murray. Directed by Diane Paulus. Music director and conductor: Dale Rieling; choreography: Ronald K. Brown; scenic design: Riccardo Hernandez; costumes: Emilio Sosa; lighting design: Christopher Akerlind; sound design: Acme Sound Partners. Starring Alicia Hall Moran, Nathaniel Stampley, Sumayya Ali, Denisha Ballew, Dan Barnhill, Danielle Lee Greaves, David Hughey, Fred Rose, Alvin Crawford and Kingsley Leggs. Presented by The National Theatre . Reviewed by Roy Maurer.