Richard Rodgers Theatre
226 West 46th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Forget the controversy; the new Broadway production of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess — the full title of which is actually now The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess — is one for the ages. Based on the DuBose Heyward 1925 novel Porgy, the show has been undergoing constant change since its debut in 1935, facing cries of racism, plot and music tinkering, and other criticisms as it went from opera to musical theater to film and television. But pay no attention to all the naysayers who are furious that alterations have been made yet again; the current production of Porgy and Bess, which opened January 12 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, is a wonderful evening of outstanding theater that hopefully enjoys a much-deserved long run. Adapted by award-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and composer Diedre L. Murray at the behest of the Gershwin estate, the A.R.T. production stars Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald as the ill-fated titular characters, he a poor cripple, she married to the strong-armed town bully, Crown (Philip Boykin). They live on South Carolina’s dilapidated Catfish Row, a poverty-stricken wharf area where the close-knit residents can’t even afford to bury their dead. After Crown kills Robbins (Nathaniel Stampley), the brute takes off, leaving Bess behind. With her husband gone, Bess moves in with Porgy, an older, wise man who needs to walk with a cane, dragging his feet horribly as he moves around. The townspeople might have no money, but temptation is always in their midst, in the form of slick city gambler and drug dealer Sporting Life (David Alan Grier). As Porgy and Bess grow closer and closer, situations both within and beyond their control threaten to tear them apart forever.
With music by George Gershwin and lyrics by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin, Porgy and Bess is chock-full of memorable songs, from “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty of Nothing,” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” to “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “I Loves You, Porgy,” and “I’m on My Way,” delivered by a stellar cast headed by beautiful performances by the two leads, four-time Tony winner McDonald, whose operatic voice soars, and Lewis, whose dulcet tones rumble through the soul. The pair makes the iconic roles — previously played by such duos as Todd Duncan and Anne Brown on Broadway in 1935, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald on a 1948 record, William Warfield and Leontyne Price in a 1952 touring company, Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne on a 1959 album, Dorothy Dandridge and Sidney Poitier in Otto Preminger’s 1959 movie, Simon Estes and Grace Bumbry at the Met in 1985, and Clarke Peters and Nicola Hughes in Trevor Nunn’s 2006 adaptation — their own, energizing the theater for a mesmerizing two and a half hours. Diane Paulus directs the show with just the right mix of humor and heartbreak, enhanced by Ronald K. Brown’s exciting, fast-paced choreography. Controversy? What controversy? This is a don’t-miss Porgy and Bess, making a very memorable and welcome return to Broadway.