If you have never had the pleasure of seeing a Broadway play then you need to make Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess your first experience. This play was nothing short of spectacular and the actors and actresses delivered powerful singing and even more powerful acting. Though some of the songs were hard to understand because of the high pitch of the singer it was still a delight for the ears. Now let’s take a real look into this play and why African Americans need to support more productions like this.
First off, Porgy and Bess was not written by an African American. It was indeed written by George Gershwin an American composer and pianist, who died just two years after Porgy and Bess made its Broadway debut. Gershwin was criticized for making Blacks seem as if they were happy with living in poverty accepting mistreatment from Whites and even each other. But that was not the case, Gershwin became fascinated with the book Porgy by DuBose Heywerd and decided to write an opera using jazz and blues music.
Fast forward to recent years and enter Suzan-Lori Parks an award-winning playwright and Diedre L. Murray who were inspired to retell Porgy and Bess from a more human nature without losing its originality and charm. Parks even changed the song that Porgy sings, “I Got Plenty of Nothing” to be suggestive to his intimate relationship with Bess. This retelling combines the best of the opera with the edginess of Broadway while maintaining a great storyline.
Parks told the Dallas Morning News in a recent article, “You have to depart from the original at a certain point to make a real musical theater piece out of it.”
She accomplished her goal of adding more human nature to the originally written opera piece because in 2012 Porgy and Bess won a Tony Award for best musical revival. The play started its national tour in San Francisco and is in Dallas at the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St., until Dec. 22.
Now let’s talk about the actual play. This play in today’s time would be seen as a joke because the main character Porgy, played by Nathaniel Stampley, is a crippled from birth who begs for his living. He lives alone but has an eye for the Catfish Row’s overly sexy, drug using, alcohol drinking lover of all things bad Bess, played by Alicia Hall Moran. When Bess is left to her own devices after her longtime bad boyfriend Crown commits a horrible act, Porgy comes to her rescue and keeps her from the clutches of the law. Unfortunately, Bess is a woman with a past and many conflicts but she does her best to try to change her life to appreciate Porgy and his love. But she doesn’t succeed as she reencounters Crown, who fled to a nearby island and returns to cause havoc on Catfish Row. Willing to do whatever for Bess, Porgy commits the ultimate sin to prove his manhood and when Bess believes he will never return to her she flees to New York with no good, drug pushing Sporting Life, played by Kingsley Leggs. Upon his return, Porgy decides to follow Bess to New York to bring her back.
In today’s time, many African American men would not be willing to do what Porgy did for Bess, especially after she left him high and dry. But that’s the thing… this play speaks of the unconditional love that a man has for a woman he loves and how regardless of the desire some demons are hard to fight and get rid of. Porgy is a true hero for the heart and the act of love. Even Crown is a man who was willing to do anything for love. Both men believed that their love would win Bess’ heart. Bess’ story is like many women today, willing to do whatever they can to change for the better and foregoing who they really are to please the men they love. Bess was nothing more than a good time girl despite her desires to change. The residents of Catfish Row are like many African American communities, they see nothing when bad things happen; they shut out those who are different or don’t share their same views; and they are willing to accept anything for the sake of accepting.
Regardless of how you will view Porgy and Bess you will be in awe of the wonderful vocal styling of the cast and the undying love Porgy has for Bess.
Tickets $30 to $150.