Sunday, April 15, 2012

Finding Inspiration, Part 4: The Show

We capped the magical evening of March 22 with a Broadway show, Porgy and Bess, perhaps my best theatrical experience ever but definitely the most surprising. The show was receiving negative publicity because the 1935 Gershwin-Heyward opera was cut by roughly an hour. Purists disapproved of any tinkering with America's best known opera, and as a lover of the music from Porgy and Bess, I had my own reservations about seeing a show that would cut any music from the original.

Audra McDonald, Bess in Porgy and Bess,
after her performance on March 22
Norm Lewis, Porgy in Porgy and Bess, at the Richard Rodgers Theater 

What I saw that night at the Richard Rodgers Theater was awe-inspiring. The acting and singing talent was incredible. After seeing the performance, we stayed to congratulate the performers, who were to the last one gracious, humble, and good-humored. The photos above show my wife with the amazing Audra McDonald (Bess) and Norm Lewis (Porgy). 

There's nothing like a great dramatic experience to inspire writing. When I got home, I visited the play's official website to learn more about the history of show and Catfish Row, South Carolina, where the musical takes place. There I found a place to write my own review of the show, which appears below:

America's opera has become America's musical. From the first note to the last, from the supporting cast to the leads, this show dazzles with an emotional intensity that I have not found in a half-century of going to the theater.

I want to mention all the performers' names, not only for their transcendent voices but for their electrifying dancing and magnetic acting as well.

Early in the two-and-a-half hour play, Nikki Renee Daniels as Clara sings "Summertime" and is joined by Joshua Henry as Jake. At that moment, I thought can this show get any more magical? But when Bryonha Marie Parham as Serena breaks my heart singing "My Man's Gone Now," I felt that if I had walked out then I would have gotten enough for the price of admission. But things were just warming up. Audra McDonald as Bess and Norm Lewis as Porgy are great together and on their own, Ms. McDonald creates magic in "I Wants You Porgy," seizing the raw essence of her character in her closing stanza like no other performance I've seen on stage. Mr. Lewis shines in "I Got Plenty of Nothing." David Alan Grier devilishly reinvents Sportin' Life, hitting the high notes--both literally and figuratively--in "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "There's a Boat Leaving Soon for New York." Philip Boykin commands the stage as Crown, overwhelming everyone around him, making his power over Bess apparent from the start, climaxing in his reappearance on stage in Act Two. I left this play emotionally drained but feeling better for it.

Without question, for its drama, singing, and orchestration, Porgy and Bess is the work of this century, and a stunning acknowledgment of the Porgy and Bess of the last century. Great work, director Diane Paulus, book adapter Suzan-Lori Parks, and music adapter Diedre Murray. May both works live harmoniously to the next century.