Porgy & Bess


Porgy & Bess is an opera rather than a Broadway musical.  It may be the most famous of American operas.  Interesting that two Jewish gentlemen, born in Brooklyn of immigrant parents, would write a play about negroes in the south.

And it is about negroes.  The opera was first performed in 1935, long before the civil rights movement was even thought of.  And, to its credit, this adaptation plays true to those roots.  The attitudes of the almost all-black cast toward each other and toward the only two white cast members – the policemen – are as they were back in the day it was written.  I like that.  I like when things are not pc’d up (political correctness).

The play is about Porgy, crippled from birth, Bess, a high living woman of easy virtue, Crown, a thief and violent man who will have his way with Bess, and Sportin’ Life, a drug-dealing, pimp-dressing, high or low living guy depending on who is speaking. 

Crown has to leave Bess in Catfish Row and run from the law.  Porgy takes her in and they are now a couple.  When Crown returns to reclaim Bess, Porgy must stand up for her, and he does, but when Porgy is taken away by the police, Sportin’ Life persuades Bess to accompany him to New York.

So much for the story.  Audra McDonald’s performances are great, but she is given some competition by NaTasha Yvette Williams as Mariah.  Both women are far more than fine singers.  Both can really act.  No matching the pure bell-like voice of Ms. McDonald, but she is surrounded by a very fine support cast.

I didn’t care much for the sparse sets, but I have learned to accept and suspend disbelief when sets are minimal.  The two + hours do not drag.  The story, the songs and the fine acting all carry it swiftly through the time.

Early on before Bess becomes respectable and shortly after she hooks up with Porgy, one of the ladies remarks:  Bess can’t make no cripple happy.  When eyes fall on Porgy, though, Mariah remarks:  “That cripple’s happy now...”

This production is worth seeing for sure.  Well done, if flawed, but let us not nit pick.  Worth seeing.  Songs you will recognize are “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty of Nothing,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and, if you ever heard Nina Simone sing it, you will never forget “I Loves You Porgy.”

On Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.