Friday, April 4, 2014

Review in Brief: Porgy and Bess

Summertime....when the living is easy.....


But is the living easy? It's unlikely that it was for Porgy and Bess in the musical of the same name, recently featured at the Ordway. 

Porgy and Bess is West Side Story meets Oliver meets Ella Fitzgerald, and I've never seen anything like it. Porgy, a crippled man, falls in unlikely love with Bess, a "loose" woman who turns to him for help after her lover kills another man. After a brief period of blissful happiness, they are separated when the negative aspects of living in poverty in the inner city come back to haunt them, and we never learn if they find each other again.

Porgy and Bess is a relatively unknown musical, which is a shame. With an extremely complex score by the magnificent Gershwins, it's also only the second musical I have ever seen with an all-black cast. I suspect this is part of the reason it's rarely performed; all I can say is that I hope it becomes a more standard part of the standard musical theater circuit.

This cast takes no prisoners, lamenting the story's sad events with haunting voices that pierce straight to the heart. Nathaniel Stampley is excellent as the perseverant Porgy, with a gorgeous voice that shines on pieces such as "I'm on My Way." David Hughey is another great voice, booming through the chorus as Jake. Alicia Hall Moran injects a coloratura tone into Bess, soaring over Stampley in duets such as "I Loves You Porgy."

Aside from the eternal classic "Summertime," other standout songs include a gorgeously robust "It Takes a Long Pull" and a beautiful spiritual interlude as the characters mourn the loss of those who die in a hurricane. The set and costumes are appropriately barebones, with some excellent lighting tricks (particularly an awesome shadow effect during "Leaving for the Promised Land"). 

Although the standard musical rotation featuring classics like Les Miserables and The Lion King is fun, it's always great to see something shake things up. Porgy and Bess deserves a wider audience, as does this cast. If you can, be sure to check it out.