Review "Porgy & Bess": Splendid Re-Imagined Classic!

Audio Podcast at ITUNES 
Narrated by Joshua Volkers

Court Theatre presents


At 5535 S. Ellis
Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin
Libretto by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward
Directed by Charles Newell 
Music direction by Doug Peck
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm
Sundays at 2:30pm and 7:30pm
Thru July 3rd
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Two and half hours includes an intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Community is people united together.  Cripple, harlot, drug dealer, matriarch, Jesus doctor: everybody has a role.  The absence of a group member forces an adjustment in the order.  Court Theatre presents a re-imagined PORGY & BESS.    It’s Charleston in 1925.  A close-knit neighborhood celebrates and survives life’s momentous incidents.  The guys have a Saturday gambling ritual.  The dice roll.  The alcohol flows. Tempers explode. An intoxicated Crown kills Robbins.  Crown flees from the law.  The community adjusts.  Crown’s gal hooks up with Porgy.  A newly loved Porgy is more enabled than disabled and leads the burial fundraiser for Robbins.  The neighborhood life shifts, continues and survives.  PORGY & BESS endures as a splendid life-altering love story.

Director Charles Newell skillfully strips the classic down to the basics.  In the center is a stark, white-washed square stage designed by John Culbert. Newell places the orchestra in a semi-circle around it.  Next, he has the ensemble, dressed in various white outfits (costume designer Jacqueline Firkins), visible throughout the production.  Either on stage or between the stage and the orchestra, the community surrounds the action.  The visual is a simplistic stunner.  With the sparse surroundings, there is plenty of room for the folk opera to fill the space.  And it does!  With musical direction led by Doug Peck, the robust lyrical sound permeates the room and seeps into the souls of the inhabitants.  Bongos are even added for a primitive, heart-throbbing feel. The passionate communion of songs haunt the audience long after the curtain falls.

It takes a village… to harmonize this sublime.  The talented cast all lends voice to the poignant melody.  Among the powerful chorus, individuals stand-out in captivating solos.  Harriet Nzinga Plumpp (Clara) is playful and reflective with a charming rendition of the familiar “Summertime.”  Channeling an entire Gospel choir, Bethany Thomas (Serena) brilliantly dominates the stage with “My Man’s Gone Now.”  A sassy matriarch, Wydetta Carter (Maria) is wild-eyed animation with a voice that threatens in “I Hate Your Struttin’ Stuff.”  At the heart of the show is the unique coupling of two lonely souls.  Dragging himself across the stage, Todd M. Kryger (Porgy) beautifully transforms from burden to protector with “Bess, you is my woman now.” Kryger and Alexis J. Rogers (Bess) have a gentle, loving chemistry.  Rogers is adorable morphing into her men’s expectations.  Her soulful singing of “I love you, Porgy” has an underlying heartbreaking sadness.  Sean Blake (Sporting Life) enthralls with a lively, charismatic woo in “There’s a boat dat’s leavin’ soon for New York.”  Is he right? Maybe!

This PORGY & BESS could be leaving for New York.  The show already extended before it opened.  It promises to be the Summertime sizzler!  Life is so easy…may be not to get tickets to this show.  

Singing “Summertime” all the way home, James describes it with ‘practically perfect Porgy!’  

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