Gershwins’ classic work gets revised treatment

‘Porgy and Bess’ appears in version that was first staged in 2011

Posted 12/7/16

Lights go up on a sketchily-built Catfish Row, in Charleston, South Carolina, where Clara (Erica Papillion-Posey) cuddles her baby and bursts into song — in a beautiful rendition of “Summertime.” She is joined in duet by her man Jake (David …

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Gershwins’ classic work gets revised treatment

‘Porgy and Bess’ appears in version that was first staged in 2011

Posted

Lights go up on a sketchily-built Catfish Row, in Charleston, South Carolina, where Clara (Erica Papillion-Posey) cuddles her baby and bursts into song — in a beautiful rendition of “Summertime.” She is joined in duet by her man Jake (David Sweet), who is a fisherman, as are many other locals. And we know we are solidly into Gershwin territory.

The Aurora Fox production, “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” was first performed in 2011 by the American Repertory Theatre in Boston, directed by Diane Paulus. She described it as adapted from a three-hour-long opera (first performed in 1935, based on the novel “Porgy” by DuBose Heywood and a play by DuBose and Dorothy Heywood) to the musical theatre stage. It’s said that George Gershwin kept working on and revising the score until his death in 1937. His brother, Ira Gershwin, and DuBose Heywood wrote the original lyrics.

The new version became a work of several years. Paulus hired Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks to write a script using words formerly sung, and musician/arranger Dierdre Murray to adapt the music. They worked on a new production, initiated by the Gershwin and Heyward estates, to bring this musical treasure into the 21st century.

The Aurora Fox recruited a sterling cast of highly trained African-American actors and singers to work under the guidance of director donnie l. betts, bringing a regional premiere of this new version to Denver. It opened Nov. 25 and plays through Jan. 1, backed by a five-piece orchestra that fills the theater with George Gershwin’s familiar score.

Bess is portrayed by Tracy Camp, who comes to Colorado from San Francisco to play against Denver’s Leonard Barrett, as the disabled Porgy. Their voices blend well and each is a fine soloist — as are many other cast members. The familiar songs sound especially fine, which means El Armstrong’s sound design is doing what it should.

Bess’ violent lover, Crown (Michael Peters), appears, joins a craps game and fights with and stabs Serena’s man, leaving her widowed and alone. Anna High appears as Serena. Tyrell Rae, a frequent actor on Littleton Town Hall’s stage, plays Crown’s sidekick and Bess’ drug dealer, Sportin’ Life — a different sort of role for him — cocky, swaggering and a bad influence as he waves drugs under Bess’ nose, luring her to follow him.

The tragic love story twists and turns with Gershwin’s wonderful music ongoing and wraps with Porgy singing “O Lord, I’m on My Way” as he leaves Catfish Row to search for his Bess.

This production is probably a “don’t miss” for area theater lovers.

If you go


“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” plays through Jan. 1, 2017 at the Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets range from $24 to $37. Aurorafox.org, 303-739-1970. Free parking.

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