Monday, June 4, 2012

'Porgy and Bess' A Broadway Must See!

Historically, African Americans and other people of color have been underrepresented on Broadway, but there has been a sizeable influx of black productions over the past few years. With shows like The Color Purple, Memphis, The Moutaintop, Scottsboro Boys and the revivals of Raisin in the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and most recently the multicultural adaptation of Streetcar finally, “The Great White Way” is getting some color!

I saw The Gershwins’Porgy and Bess, a classic tale of two lovers who are both attempting to overcome their physical and emotional wounds, and prove to each other and the world that they are strong enough to build a life together. This stunning production takes place in the late 1930’s in Charleston, South Carolina in Catfish Row and Kittawah Island. It stars four time Tony winner Audra McDonald as a wayward woman who is trying to break away from her shady past and lover Crown, and make a go at a respectable life with Porgy. Broadway mainstay Norm Lewis, who has received his first Tony nomination for this role plays Porgy, a crippled and beloved man in his community. David Alan Grier sparkles as Sporting Life, a drug dealer scoundrel who poses a constant threat to Bess’ efforts to transform and heal.

I have a fond place in my heart for Porgy and Bess as I remember learning some of the notable songs from the production in middle school like “I Got Plenty of Nothing”, and of course, “Summertime”.

This modernized incarnation of Porgy and Bess, adapted by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre L. Murray is now more a musical in nature than an opera as it was originally written, though it retains archetypal elements. It has been nominated for 10 Tonys, which is befitting as it’s beautifully performed by a vibrant cast. I got an opportunity to meet most of the cast members at an event prior to seeing the show, and the gracious souls of these talented people shine through in their rendition.

I was mesmerized by McDonald’s voice and thought her Tony nominated portrayal of a woman who yearns to do the right thing, but just can’t conquer her demons was compelling. I love the way she vacillated between innocent and tragic. Lewis, in his empathetic performance strikes the completely appropriate balance of sensitivity and strength. He adeptly depicts a man who needs to prove to the world and to himself that he is powerful enough to get, keep and fight for a woman like Bess, and is deserving of love despite his perceived frailties. McDonald and Lewis’ scene together while singing one of the show’s signature pieces, “Bess, You is My Woman Now” was truly breathtaking, as the two characters confess their love and commit to make it against all odds. (The woman sitting in front of me in the theater was bawling!) This was only one of the memorable moments in the show.

Grier, who has also garnered a Tony nom for Best Featured Actor nails his role as Sporting Life, the relentless and remorseless drug pusher who is hell bent on capitalizing on Bess’ weakness in her attempt to reclaim a fraction of her self worth. In his spot-on recitation of “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, where he challenges the community’s bible based beliefs, Grier makes you forget all about his well known and hilarious characters like the lip glossed Antoine Merriweather from In Living Color, and refreshes your memory that he is a Yale trained actor with impeccable versatility. Grier’s “pimp walk” that punctuates this character’s ruthless conduct had my friend cracking up all night!

This is a glorious show with standout performances. Nikki Renee' Daniels who plays Clara, a woman married to one of the fishermen, spectacularly delivers "Summertime”. And Natasha Yvette Williams, who portrays Mariah, a matriarchal woman who welcomes Bess to Catfish Row is touching and hilarious!

I felt emotional seeing The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, not only because of the quality of the production, but in seeing magnificently talented and gorgeous black people radiate on stage! It was a fabulous night!  

Check out an interview with Tony nominee Norm Lewis, cast member J.D. Webster and a bevy of pics below!

Norm Lewis discusses his first Tony nomination! (Um, I love him! LOL!)

J.D. Webster plays Mingo the Undertaker in Porgy and Bess! (He's great!)
Enjoy some pics from an event at the legendary New York City restaurant Sardis, a Broadway tradition, where Norm Lewis received his very own caricature!

Norm Lewis receiving his caricature at Sardis!

Phillip Boykin, who plays Crown. He is nominated for a Tony for Best Featured Actor and this is his BROADWAY DEBUT!!! Yaaaay! 

Cast of Porgy and Bess!
Lewis and McDonald
McDonald and Grier show off their own caricatures!
Grier, Lewis and McDonald 
Check out more of Sardis' caricatures of some of your favorite stars!

Angela Bassett
Sammy Davis Jr.
Phylicia Rashad
Chris Rock
Morgan Freeman
I'd like to thank Irene Gandy of Jeffrey Richards Associates for affording me an opportunity to cover this show and meet the cast! Ms. Gandy, a PR veteran and Broadway legend in her own right also has a Sardis caricature! "WERK"! 

Irene Gandy

I'd also like to mention that the staff at Sardis is awesome!!!

All photos and video were taken with the Samsung 4G Epic Touch from Sprint!

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