The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess Featured

Alicia Hall Moran & Nathaniel Stampley Alicia Hall Moran & Nathaniel Stampley

 

 

The Bronze Report caught up with cast members of The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess before opening night in San Francisco.  Alicia Moran Hall (Bess) and Nathaniel Stampley (Porgy) star in the touring production of this Tony Award-winning musical -- replacing Audra McDaniel and Norm Lewis from 2012 Broadway revival.  San Francisco is their first stop on the 20-city tour.

 

 

Both actors were quick to inform TBR, this is not Porgy and Bess, the opera.  This is a musical.  

 

George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward's original story of two unlikely lovers still unfolds on Catfish Row, a poor, South Carolina fishing town. But the creators of this musical hope to reel in an untapped audience  -- one that might not normally attend a full-length opera, and may be underwhelmed by the racial tropes and minstrelsy overtones that color Gershwins' original 1935 version. 

 

Gone is Porgy's goat cart, along with almost two hours of music and recitative.  What remain are canonical songs like Summertime, I Loves You Porgy, classics now part of the American songbook, and the tortured, complicated story of love, change, addiction and hope.

 

Critics were wary -- even hostile -- when Diane Paulus (director) and Suzan-Lori Parks (book adaptor) announced they were going to modernize this classic 'American folk opera'.  In their defense, adaptations of Porgy and Bess abound -- in film, in music -- making Stampley and Moran part of a long line of black entertainers that begins with the original cast led by Anne Brown and Todd Duncan.  Since then, Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne, Sara Vaughan, Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr., Miles Davis, Nina Simone -- and so many other black actors and musicians have laid claim to Gershwin's opera and made it their own, despite the social controversy.   

 

Moran embraces that history and dismisses those who would trash Gershwin's attempt to make black characters part of the tradition of 'white' opera on the grounds that "we don't do that anymore."  

 

"To take something ...and blow it off because you don't want to do the interface is dishonest," says Moran.  "Do not allow people to take your best stuff away... this is genius."

 

"A lot of thought and care went into creating these characters," adds Stampley. "I think we did a great version."

 

In high school, Stampley watched operatic baritone Donny Ray Albert play Porgy onstage and thought if he could ever grow up and be like him, that would be heaven.  After years of training, Stampley told TBR, "I am living my dream -- I am blessed." 

 

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess runs from Novermber 10th through December 8th at SHN Golden Gate Theatre.  For tickets call (888) 746-1799, or visit www.shnsf.com.

 

For more information visit www.PorgyandBesstheMusical.com.

 

 

 

 

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