The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess: Broadway, You Is My Venue Now

Trimmed and renamed, a great opera has shrunk to become a good show

Catfish Row gets some changes: Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis
Michael J. Lutch
Catfish Row gets some changes: Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis

Location Info


Richard Rodgers Theater

226 W. 46th St.
New York, NY 10036

Category: Theaters

Region: West 40s


The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
By George & Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward, and Suzan-Lori Parks
Richard Rodgers Theatre
226 West 46 Street

No suave gentleman, either, is David Alan Grier as the story's nemesis, the urbane coke peddler Sportin' Life. Where most Sportin' Lifes have striven to cloak their menace in charm, Grier plays tough and sometimes downright nasty. This doesn't always jibe well with what remains of the original material, but it creates, as the best moments in all the minor roles create, a powerful sense that something meaningful and valuable is going on. When the chorus lights into a full-bodied piece of relatively unscathed Gershwin, or when McDonald's face is lit up by a new emotion, what's going on feels like greatness. The pity is that TGP&B, in the very act of striving to sustain Porgy and Bess's theatrical life, has felt the need to dissipate so much of what makes Gershwin's opera worth preserving.

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The opera hasn't gone anywhere. It can still be staged whenever a willing company is found, which admittedly my be even less than before now that Porgy Lite exists. Sadly, a lot of us low brows find that sitting through four and a half hours of anything will diminish our ability to concentrate on it and enjoy it. And this version seems to do a commendable job of portraying the black actors as people instead of 1930's white people's version of people.

I put my trust in Audra. Her artistic sensibilities cannot fall far below her musical genius and I trust her not to go through the ordeal of bringing even Porgy Lite to life eight times a week if she did not believe in the project.

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