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The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess Theatre Review - A Majestic Night of Music

By Angie Comer

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Almost eighty years after its 1935 premiere in New York, Director Diane Paulus and Chorographer Ronald K. Brown have polished the style of The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess into a more beloved masterpiece brimming warmth and humility.  

 

Featuring Nathanial Stampley and Alicia Hall Moran as the ill-fated lovers Porgy and Bess, this impeccable production tells the story of a proud local and disabled beggar named Porgy and his fight to rescue the town harlot Bess from the control of her lover, the clutches of her drug dealer and her own self-sabotaging ways.

 

 

As Porgy and Bess, there are no shortages of extraordinary moments between Stampley and Moran. Together and individually, these two artists offer an explosion of creation as they jump out of their skin and make their characters real and complex. With emotionally impactful performances, their voices are sleek and command every note—Stampley and Moran beautifully encapsulate the spirit of Catfish Row in more ways than one.

 

 

With a hint of snappy comedy, the women of Catfish Row expose Bess before she even saunters on the stage. Deeply rooted in their community, these audacious women want nothing more than to distance themselves from Bess and her toxic habits of men, booze and drugs. At the helm of this confident group are Mariah (played by Danielle Lee Graves) and Serena (played by Denisha Ballew) with playful and radiant performances.

Sumayya Ali and David Hughey as Clara and Jake award the audience with a fearless portrait of lovers whose marriage and romance in not impeded by the slums of Catfish Row.

 

 

Though Porgy’s views on Bess collide often and hard with the women of Catfish Row, he is courageous in his efforts to defend her. When Bess finally makes her presence known wearing a wickedly tight red dress, it is clear this is a woman with zero concerns for her future and is simply on a quest for the next best thing. As events unfold, a husband is murdered and the women of Catfish Row turn a deaf ear; Bess finds herself in the comfort of the one person willing to provide a helping hand; Porgy.

 

 

Drug dealer Sporting Life is in the soul killing business. As a regular clown in the Catfish Row, Kingsley Leggs depiction of Sporting Life is delightful and razor sharp as he constantly bombards Bess with small doses of “happy dust.”  And Alvin Crawford’s representation of Bess’ husband Crown is that of a huge bird of prey, stalking Bess with his ruthless calm. Much like a cyclone on the loose, these men know how to unleash hell on Bess.

 

 

The sublime orchestration, along with the lighting, staging and engaging costumes truly honor this re-imaging of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess.

 

 

In the final moments, Bess is at her lowest in a quiet surrender to Sporting Life. The always-forgiving Porgy is armored with a fragile ego as he throws a sack over his shoulder and heads for New York to reclaim his Bess. Porgy may falter in his steps, but there is no gimp in his love for Bess.

 

 

The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess is running now through June 1, 2014 at:

 

Ahamanson Theatre

at the Music Center

downtown Los Angeles

135 N. Grand Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90012

 

Published on Apr 28, 2014

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