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The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess in Los Angeles


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Forgive me if I have stepped on someone else's thread. I could only find a secondary mention in a thread about Hugh Jackman being back on Broadway from several years ago.

 

I saw this show last night at the Ahmanson Theater where it is playing until June 1, 2014. The show when it was done on Broadway received some very negative comments before it opened from no less a Broadway icon than Stephen Sondheim. The gist of the complaints seemed to be that the original material had been stripped down and become more a musical than the full opera as it was originally written. I have never seen the original material performed as an opera in it's full form. I have only seen clips so I cannot say whether the material suffers in total from the cuts. I will say that in it's current form, it felt more accessible to me, and overall, I enjoyed it very much.

 

Of course it has some amazing music composed by one of America's preeminent musical geniuses, George Gershwin. With a book by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and additional lyrics by Ira Gershwin the original clocked in at over 4 hours with intermissions and ran for only 142 performances in it's first staging in 1939. Over time the classic tale of the cripple black man and his love for the drug addict prostitute has become a staple of the opera world.

 

Classic songs like SUMMERTIME, I GOT PLENTY O' NOTHIN' and IT AIN'T NECESSARILY SO resonate through out the piece. But the real depth of the music comes in numbers like MY MAN"S GONE NOW, BESS ,YOU IS MY WOMAN NOW and the uplifting LEAVING FOR THE PROMISED LAND.

 

As staged by Dianne Paulus from the original Tony winning production, this company draws us into the misery and hope of life on Catfish Row in South Carolina. The estates of the Gershwin's and Heyward's commissioned a work that would be more accessible to today's tastes and I think the producers have given them exactly what they asked for.

 

The lush 23 piece orchestra adds an "event" feel to the evening with those incredible Gershwin melodies and rhythms.

 

All of the performers are top notch with voices to match the demands of the music.

The sets, costumes,lighting, choreography and effects are very good.

 

 

I really felt involved with these people and their struggles. The sense of hope from hopeless circumstances filled lifted my spirits. I would recommend it to anyone unless you are one of those who feels the original opera should not be tampered with. If that's you, I would recommend playing an old CD.

 

http://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/Porgy-and-Bess/

SALUTING THE MEN AND WOMEN OF OUR ARMED FORCES

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I must admit, when I saw the Broadway cast back in May of 2012, some of the cuts in the music and orchestration were a bit jarring. Also, in the full opera, everything is sung except for the white police detectives who have the only spoken dialogue in the piece. In the Broadway revival version most of the songs were bridged to and from by dialogue. Not a biggie if the emphasis is more on the characters than the music.

 

The main reason for seeing that production for me was Audra McDonald as Bess and she did win yet another well-deserved Tony for her performance! The other reason was to see David Alan Grier as Sportin’ Life. He was quite impressive in a part that is very difficult to sing well. When I saw it I thought this version streamlined the plot and put a lot more emphasis on making the lives of these characters living in Catfish Row grittier and more realistic.

 

TruHart1 :cool:

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You can't go to a local theater anymore without using the Suzie Jones Lounge, or taking the Berry Smith staircase into the Leonetta Murphy Auditorium. During intermission, you might want to use The Cooper Jackson Men's room, and pee into the Lucky Jones urinal. Everything seems to have a name on it. Your local park does too, with every bench now named for someone.

So, recently a thread went up on the Roundabout Theater's Cabaret, and now we have The Gerswhin's Porgy and Bess. Wasn't it just fine when it was plain old Porgy and Bess? Even if changes have been made from the original, is there another Porgy and Bess going around with which the audience might be confused if we didn't call this one The Gershwin's P&B? If I go see Cabaret performed in Los Angeles, will it not be the same Cabaret I see in New York?

 

Shows often get some changes over time, but they don't get re-named. The Hedwig and the Angry Inch staged at the Jane Street Theater was, reportedly, far grittier than the placable Neil Patrick Harris is doing on Broadway. So shouldn't it be called the Belasco Theater's Hedwig and the Semi-Angry Inch?

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Forgive me if I have stepped on someone else's thread. I could only find a secondary mention in a thread about Hugh Jackman being back on Broadway from several years ago.

 

I saw this show last night at the Ahmanson Theater where it is playing until June 1, 2014. The show when it was done on Broadway received some very negative comments before it opened from no less a Broadway icon than Stephen Sondheim. The gist of the complaints seemed to be that the original material had been stripped down and become more a musical than the full opera as it was originally written. I have never seen the original material performed as an opera in it's full form. I have only seen clips so I cannot say whether the material suffers in total from the cuts. I will say that in it's current form, it felt more accessible to me, and overall, I enjoyed it very much.

 

Of course it has some amazing music composed by one of America's preeminent musical geniuses, George Gershwin. With a book by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and additional lyrics by Ira Gershwin the original clocked in at over 4 hours with intermissions and ran for only 142 performances in it's first staging in 1939. Over time the classic tale of the cripple black man and his love for the drug addict prostitute has become a staple of the opera world.

 

Classic songs like SUMMERTIME, I GOT PLENTY O' NOTHIN' and IT AIN'T NECESSARILY SO resonate through out the piece. But the real depth of the music comes in numbers like MY MAN"S GONE NOW, BESS ,YOU IS MY WOMAN NOW and the uplifting LEAVING FOR THE PROMISED LAND.

 

As staged by Dianne Paulus from the original Tony winning production, this company draws us into the misery and hope of life on Catfish Row in South Carolina. The estates of the Gershwin's and Heyward's commissioned a work that would be more accessible to today's tastes and I think the producers have given them exactly what they asked for.

 

The lush 23 piece orchestra adds an "event" feel to the evening with those incredible Gershwin melodies and rhythms.

 

All of the performers are top notch with voices to match the demands of the music.

The sets, costumes,lighting, choreography and effects are very good.

 

 

I really felt involved with these people and their struggles. The sense of hope from hopeless circumstances filled lifted my spirits. I would recommend it to anyone unless you are one of those who feels the original opera should not be tampered with. If that's you, I would recommend playing an old CD.

 

http://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/Porgy-and-Bess/[/color][/size][/font]

 

I really, really appreciate your review of "Porgy and Bess". I live in Los Angeles and it's an easy trip to the Music Center for me but I've just about stopped going. It's not the shows - it's the audiences. I have grown so tired of being trampled during the last number of a musical by people clamoring to get out and into the parking garage before everybody else. I'm tired of watching people text during performances, and I'm really tired of people talking. I have noticed that B'way audience manners have deteriorated too when I've gone on my annual theatre junkets but they are not nearly as bad as L.A. audiences. I have a theory that it's because only the entitled, well off Angelenos can afford going to the theatre anymore. Tickets can be very expensive, especially for decent seats, and when you factor in $12 for parking, few people are willing to spend over $150 for 1 evening, so you get people who can afford it but who don't know how to behave.

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What's in a name?

 

Part of the reason for the change in name to THE GERSHWIN'S PORGY AND BESS had to do with separating it from the original or course. However, the primary reason had to do with extending the copyright of the songs for the estates, hence the new name.

 

As for the cost of the tickets mentioned by another poster, I agree with you, Unless you do a whole season as I do, the individual shows are priced way too high. I suggest trying Goldstar.com (if they are still around). I have gotten some pretty good seats at almost 1/2 the face value in rear orchestra for the Ahmanson theater. It's worth a try if the show is listed there (not sure if it is, but if it is, they usually offer good seats although you are buying blind much like discount booths in NYC).

SALUTING THE MEN AND WOMEN OF OUR ARMED FORCES

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Los Angeles theater-goers storming the exits before the show is over is just the same as they leave Dodger's Stadium! It starts in the sixth inning, when half the crowd heads for the exits to "beat the traffic."

BTW, this thread is now The Jackhammer Theater Thread on The Gerswhin's Porgy and Bess.

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So, recently a thread went up on the Roundabout Theater's Cabaret, and now we have The Gerswhin's Porgy and Bess. Wasn't it just fine when it was plain old Porgy and Bess? Even if changes have been made from the original, is there another Porgy and Bess going around with which the audience might be confused if we didn't call this one The Gershwin's P&B? If I go see Cabaret performed in Los Angeles, will it not be the same Cabaret I see in New York?

 

Frankly Rich -

My understanding is that the name change on Porgy And Bess was dictated by the estate when licensing the stripped down production.

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Thanks, Cash4Trash. I try to be educable. I decided to check it out, and found that the new P&B is not all opera. Here's one reviewer's take:

 

"Let’s call this Porgy and Bess the Revenge of Broadway. Understandably, opera purists hate this new treatment of George Gerswhin’s classic of African-Americans struggling on Catfish Row in Charleston in the 1930s. If you know only the three-and-a half hour, totally sung-through, operatic version, it can be a bit of a shock. These familiar characters suddenly start to talk. And then the entire show speeds by a whole hour shorter, partly because all that talk has replaced the stem-winding recitative. Plus, there’s the music. A Broadway pit band is smaller, sometimes brassier, sometimes shriller, than a full-throated opera orchestra.

 

That’s all true. And it’s not hard to sympathize with composer Stephen Sondheim’s objections, which he made vehemently public in The New York Times before this current touring adaptation even opened on Broadway. Sondheim feels DuBose Heyward’s original lyrics are superb, some of the finest in American music. So even the official, trademarked name of this new version offends him. It highlights the box-office draw of the Gershwin name, ignoring Heyward’s contributions. Talk about Broadway’s crass commercialism, there it is in the official, five-word title: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.

 

But listen. The darn thing still works.

- See more at: http://artandseek.net/2013/12/16/review-the-gershwins-porgy-and-bess/#sthash.4sDSJoPx.dpuf

 

Another take, discussed in this article from the NY Times, is harder to summarize, thus I link it: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/15/theater/the-gershwins-porgy-and-bess-is-less-changed-for-broadway.html

 

And, frankly, I consider myself done with P&B. I need a sandwich!

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Despite all the complaints on Broadway chat boards several years ago, I liked "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" on Broadway. No, it is not the opera. As others have written, the reasons to see it include the songs and the cast. I am sure the LA version has cast people as good as the original Broadway cast, especially Audra McDonald.

 

I usually would not repeat what other people have already posted, but the controvery about the cuts in the opera and especially the name of the show were perhaps understandable, but also annoying because they continued so long when the show was playing in Boston and New York. They did not concern me at all once the show started and I heard Gershwin's music.

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Thanks, Cash4Trash. I try to be educable. I decided to check it out, and found that the new P&B is not all opera. Here's one reviewer's take:

 

"Let’s call this Porgy and Bess the Revenge of Broadway. Understandably, opera purists hate this new treatment of George Gerswhin’s classic of African-Americans struggling on Catfish Row in Charleston in the 1930s. If you know only the three-and-a half hour, totally sung-through, operatic version, it can be a bit of a shock. These familiar characters suddenly start to talk. And then the entire show speeds by a whole hour shorter, partly because all that talk has replaced the stem-winding recitative. Plus, there’s the music. A Broadway pit band is smaller, sometimes brassier, sometimes shriller, than a full-throated opera orchestra.

 

That’s all true. And it’s not hard to sympathize with composer Stephen Sondheim’s objections, which he made vehemently public in The New York Times before this current touring adaptation even opened on Broadway. Sondheim feels DuBose Heyward’s original lyrics are superb, some of the finest in American music. So even the official, trademarked name of this new version offends him. It highlights the box-office draw of the Gershwin name, ignoring Heyward’s contributions. Talk about Broadway’s crass commercialism, there it is in the official, five-word title: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.

 

But listen. The darn thing still works.

- See more at: http://artandseek.net/2013/12/16/review-the-gershwins-porgy-and-bess/#sthash.4sDSJoPx.dpuf

 

Another take, discussed in this article from the NY Times, is harder to summarize, thus I link it: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/15/theater/the-gershwins-porgy-and-bess-is-less-changed-for-broadway.html

 

And, frankly, I consider myself done with P&B. I need a sandwich!

 

Of interest is the fact that Porgy and Bess is one of those pieces that was never really accepted as Gershwin intended until recent history. When first produced as opera in 1935 it was not received as the serious work Gershwin wrote. Until 1976, when the first fully complete production of the opera was staged by Houston Grand Opera, it had been produced in many cut-down versions, both on and off Broadway and in the 1959 film with Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge (both of whom had their vocals dubbed) in versions of songs with dialogue. Over the years, many of the Gershwin songs have been or have become popular standards and hits.

 

There have been many successful productions now of both the complete opera and play with musical selections and/or dialogue. As long as Gershwin’s music is being played and sung, the work will survive in whatever form in which is presented. As a vehicle for great musical actresses such as Audra McDonald or great sopranos such as Leona Mitchell, we have a popular piece that cannot fail to engage the listener. Perhaps this latest touring production may introduce the piece better to those uninterested in hearing operatic voices and orchestrations. Perhaps the next fully complete operatic production will introduce someone who loves the operatic form to one of the greatest American operas ever written. IMHO all versions of a great work are valid if the intent holds true!

 

…and that is MY last word on Porgy and Bess! ;)

 

TruHart1 :cool:

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My understanding is that the name change on Porgy And Bess was dictated by the estate when licensing the stripped down production.

 

The Gershwin estate is indeed to blame for the title. But it has, in fact, been around for a number of years now, way before Paulus' production. I think somehow the title has just slipped by all these years, not really being noticed until the Paulus version (it might have even been the comments by Sondheim that brought the title into focus - and clearly he wasn't aware of that title's prior usage either.)

 

In any case, I hate that title. Frankly Rich has pointed out the re-naming craze aspect of it. But also, it shuts out the crucial contribution of DuBose Heyward, while seeing to give Ira more credit than he might really deserve in proportion. (Heyward did the majority of the libretto - Ira did contribute some of the big songs, notably "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "Bess, You Is My Woman Now.") While I am certainly NOT advocating that the piece be officially called Gershwin, Heyward and Gershwin's Porgy And Bess, I think the current title is a smarmy bit of false advertising.

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Despite all the complaints on Broadway chat boards several years ago, I liked "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" on Broadway. No, it is not the opera. As others have written, the reasons to see it include the songs and the cast. I am sure the LA version has cast people as good as the original Broadway cast, especially Audra McDonald.

 

I usually would not repeat what other people have already posted, but the controvery about the cuts in the opera and especially the name of the show were perhaps understandable, but also annoying because they continued so long when the show was playing in Boston and New York. They did not concern me at all once the show started and I heard Gershwin's music.

 

I'm of two minds on this one. I don't particularly care for the show. It's too long, it drags, and I find a lot of the music just, well, icky for lack of a better word. On the other hand, I thought the Broadway version a couple years ago was just a travesty on a whole number of levels. I also thought that Audra McDonald was a bore. I'm actually getting rather tired of her schtick. It doesn't vary in 20 years and I find her mannerisms (like mid to late Leontyne which also bothered me) are starting to get to me. She seems to be a sacred cow, however, and any criticism of her doesn't really seem to be allowed.

 

But I'm not sure I ever need to see this show again. I'd much rather they revive Show Boat -- the score of which is far richer and more interesting to me than Porgy and Bess.

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The Gershwin estate is indeed to blame for the title. But it has, in fact, been around for a number of years now, way before Paulus' production. I think somehow the title has just slipped by all these years, not really being noticed until the Paulus version (it might have even been the comments by Sondheim that brought the title into focus - and clearly he wasn't aware of that title's prior usage either.)

 

In any case, I hate that title. Frankly Rich has pointed out the re-naming craze aspect of it. But also, it shuts out the crucial contribution of DuBose Heyward, while seeing to give Ira more credit than he might really deserve in proportion. (Heyward did the majority of the libretto - Ira did contribute some of the big songs, notably "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "Bess, You Is My Woman Now.") While I am certainly NOT advocating that the piece be officially called Gershwin, Heyward and Gershwin's Porgy And Bess, I think the current title is a smarmy bit of false advertising.

 

The "Gershwins" are a brand that will sell so I'm guessing that's why they do it. It's like going to a bar and seeing a "Martini menu." Seriously? Why do you need a menu for one drink made with gin and few whiffs of vermouth? Because these days every gross concoction you think of is called a "martini" because martinis are a brand that sells. So rather than come up with a new name for what is, in essence, a new drink they just call it a "martini" as a marketing ploy. Same thing.

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MrMiniver, I do not enjoy Audra McDonald's concerts; the song selection seems random and the concerts do not build to the finish. But I do like her when she plays a role in a play or musical. I believe that she is that character for the whole performance. I like "Showboat" as well, but how long ago was the revival with Elaine Stritch? Probably longer than I think!

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