PLAYBILL PICKS: The Top Theatre Stories of 2011 From Spider-Man to Sondheim to Site-Specific Shows

By Robert Simonson
23 Dec 2011

Stephen Sondheim
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

PORGY AND BESS AND STEVE: One of the cardinal unspoken rules of conduct in the theatre is that, unless you're a critic, you don't publicly bad mouth a production in which you have no involvement. Live and let live — wish everyone the best in public, and tell the truth privately. But Stephen Sondheim is old and iconic enough to live by his own rules. So, when he didn't like the direction the creative team of the new revival of Porgy and Bess were taking the classic Gershwin show, he didn't only speak up. He spoke up in the pages of the New York Times — at great length. He said, in part, "These characters are as vivid as any ever created for the musical theatre, as has been proved over and over in productions that may have cut some dialogue and musical passages but didn't rewrite and distort them." His blistering assessment was such that the letter to the editor almost actually capsized the production. Critics rushed to Boston to register their own reservations with the revival, and reports circulated that the show would not make it to Broadway. Producers had to assure the public again and again that they would indeed open. And director Diane Paulus, and new bookwriter Suzan-Lori Parks and musical adaptor Diedre Murray, couldn't do an interview without addressing the Sondheim issue. The musical is now playing the Richard Rodgers Theatre. It stars Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis. Read our August feature in which Paulus discusses the 1935 folk opera and check out Playbill Video's recent visit to the show's rehearsal studio, where the cast and creative team talked about the project.

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