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Nathaniel Stampley interview: Porgy and Bess star is 'living the dream'

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Nathaniel Stampley has been waiting for the role of “Porgy” for what may seem like a lifetime. Growing up in Milwaukee as a teenager, Stampley watched in the wings as the duets of “Porgy and Bess” were performed by the local opera company. As a high schooler, he was a member of the opera chorus and dreamed of one day playing Porgy and singing those duets. And now, a few decades later, Stampley, who has been in productions of The Lion King, The Color Purple, Fiorello! and more says, “I’m literally just living the dream.”

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The hit Tony-Award winning Broadway musical "The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess" comes to The National Theatre in Washington, D.C. on Christmas Day and runs through Dec. 29, 2013. The DC Gospel Music Examiner spoke to Stampley about his role in the play and performing at the National Theatre.

How did you get involved with the production and get the role?
Nathaniel Stampley: I heard the production was going to start a couple of years ago. There was definitely a buzz around New York and maybe around the country. So I kept talking to my agent and said whenever it comes up I definitely want to be seen and there were auditions for the workshop of the show and I auditioned and had a number of auditions actually and a number of call backs and I got into the show.

You served as understudy for Norm Lewis. How did it feel when you got to play Porgy on Broadway?
Nathaniel Stampley:
It’s absolutely incredible for an understudy when you get to go on. So when I was an understudy in the role and I got a chance to go on I mean it was just like a full circle, to be doing it on Broadway, and this incredible re-enactment production and it just really is a dream come true and to now do the role on a nightly basis, I’m just, I’m so grateful and so fortunate and humbled by it.

What are your favorite songs in the production?
Nathaniel Stampley:
I have a number of favorites. Selfishly, I’ll say both of duets that Porgy and Bess have together, “I Love You Porgy” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” I think those are some of the best duets that have ever been written for any stage. I really, really love “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” It’s such a fun song and there’s one moment in the show where the entire company is on the edge of the stage and they’re singing and mourning the loss of Jake and Clara that is an acapella section in the show that is so stunning. Every night, I get goose bumps, just being on stage listening to my fellow cast mates sing this incredible music. It’s a very intimate moment and it’s unique. It’s not like any other moment in the show and it’s really something, a special experience every night. Those are some highlights, but every single show, I love it!

"The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" won the Tony Award in 2012 for Best Musical Revival and is now on a 14-state tour that concludes July 2014.

How has the tour been going so far?
Nathaniel Stampley:
It’s been great. I get a chance to sing with my dear friend, Alicia Hall Moran (Bess) and anytime I get to be on stage with her it’s going to be a great night. That’s wonderful. The two cities, San Francisco and Dallas have been so receptive and open and welcoming to this production. It’s been wonderful!

Porgy and Bess has a rich history in DC and at the National. Todd Duncan, the original Porgy, was a Howard University professor who, along with his co-star Anne Brown (Bess), led a cast strike protesting audience segregation at the National Theatre when the show played there in 1936. As a result, Porgy and Bess played to the theater's first integrated audience.

The play has a rich history with the National Theatre dating back to 1936. How does it fell to be performing here?
Nathaniel Stampley:
I think it just show how far we’ve come as a country. We’ve not arrived but we are so far from 1936. I think I am humbled having the history of Todd Duncan and Anna Brown taking a stand and then to now be performing in the city where our current President resides. There’s just so much to this production and play; So many of our greatest artists have touched this piece, William Warfield, Leontyne Price, Cab Calloway and the list goes on. This is just a great gift to D.C.. It’s amazing!

Ticket prices for "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" start at $48 plus applicable service charges, and are on sale now at the National Theatre box office, online at thenationaldc.com, or by calling (800) 514-3849. Group orders of 10 or more may be placed by calling (855) 486-2516. For more information, call (202) 628-6161.

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