Writing for a blog vexes me at times. Why? Because I feel compelled to give you the whole truth and nothing but. No, I’m not a liar in my current, non-blogging life, it is just that the fact that I had no idea what Porgy and Bess – a seventy-six-year-old theatrical masterpiece – was about never comes up in my everyday conversation so I don’t have to divulge that often. One more secret? I almost named Joelle “Bess”, but even with that I hadn’t researched what type of heroine would be associated with that name for the rest of my daughter’s life.
So now you know. I didn’t know. I didn’t know about this wonderful tale of two lovers that are Porgy and Bess. Had I known what kind of spunk and courage Bess had I might have reconsidered that name. She, played by Audra McDonald, was a “big city” girl until she wound up in a small town. Porgy was a cripple in that town and after Bess’s man, Crown, murdered one of the towns folk, Bess had to find another man. Porgy, played by Norm Lewis, was already sweet on Bess so he took her in with open arms. Spoiler alert: Eventually Bess comes to love Porgy, who kills Crown, and all live happily ever after (well, except Crown and the man he murdered).
That’s the meat of the show, but the way the production is laid out will take your breath away.
THE MUSIC: Oddly enough, I’d seen Ms. McDonald on television prior to even knowing I was going to be at the play. She is an accomplished opera soprano. Loved her! Every note out of her mouth was captivating. Her duet with Porgy is why people buy soundtracks of musicals. Every play in NYC I’ve ever been to has a “star”, the person they hire to sell more tickets, or so it seems. David Alan Grier, who plays Sporting Life, was one of the stars on In Living Color, a sketch comedy, and man-oh-man, did he belt. Nope. The Masters of Fine Arts actor isn’t classically trained to sing, but he knows his way around a Broadway musical (Dreamgirls, anyone?) and he wasn’t hidden in the back as part of the scenery either. Great music.
THE ACTING: Being reverted back to a time when African Americans had to call Caucasions “Boss” or some other term that puts us on unequal footing is never fun for me. I don’t think anything can make me forget that’s what is happening on stage, but they definitely did a great job. There wasn’t a lot of scenery or props to distract you. One scene used only a working water pump. You can’t do anything but act in a case like that.
THE WEIRD THING: As any parent who has been to a school play or any performance knows, there are times when you applaud. You do it to show your appreciation for the work the actors put into the performance. Nothing new. There is (another spoiler alert) a place in the play where Crown comes back for Bess and it is implied that he rapes her. Now, one, it takes real talent to perform a rape on stage while singing beautifully. But, two, we as an audience clapped afterwards. I thought that was so wildly weird. Yes, the actors (Crown was played by Phillip Boykin) did a wonderful job with a horrible part of life as told by this scene, it was just, oh, did I say this already? Weird. (Most plays have this moment. This one just stood out probably because it was so well acted and sung it felt real.)
If you ever get to see this musical on Broadway it is totally worth it (the show’s run ends Sept. 23, 2012). I have seen a lot of Broadway and all of it is great to be quite honest. There is a reason Porgy And Bess has survived 76 years. The story of redemption, duty, and love is timeless and wonderfully told and this cast and crew did it great justice.
Disclosure statement: The tickets for this event were given to me by Mama Drama. They asked if I wanted to see and review a play during BlogHer12, and I sure did! The opinions about the play are my own as is my gratitude for being chosen to review such a beautiful and timeless Broadway production.
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Ella Rucker is a mother of a two-year-old girl and the guardian of two boys. She is currently working on dispelling the myth that being a “stay at home mom” has anything to do with staying at home. Ella moved from Ohio to New York City twelve years ago where she is currently assisting the head GEM and proving that sticking your neck out just might help you win the race. She loves to read about the “mental laws” and seeing them work in her life, but her greatest joy is laughing madly and wildly with her daughter who amazes her everyday. You can also find her writing for mochamanual.com or by following her tweets @ellalaverne.