Audra McDonald In Talks for Porgy and Bess at American Repertory Theater

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11 Feb 2011

Audra McDonald
Audra McDonald
Photo by Michael Wilson

Four-time Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald is in talks to star in a revamped staging of George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward's folk opera Porgy and Bess, which will bow at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA, this September.

Playbill.com has learned that McDonald would lend her soprano to the classic as hot-blooded Bess in the new production, which is being re-imagined by Tony Award nominee Diane Paulus (Hair), Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog, Book of Grace) and Pulitzer Prize nominee Diedre Murray (Running Man) as a musical for contemporary audiences.

Hair producers Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel will present the new incarnation of Porgy and Bess along with A.R.T. It will begin performances in early September under Paulus' direction. Richards and Frankel's attachment could indicate that the production is aiming for a New York run.

McDonald's last stage role was in the starry 2009 Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night. It was announced this week that she would depart the ABC series "Private Practice" at the end of this season.

Set in the fictional Catfish Row, SC, the work tells of the crippled beggar Porgy and his love for Bess. With music by George Gershwin, lyrics by his brother Ira and a book by DuBose Heyward, the work includes such songs as "Bess, You Is My Woman Now," "I Loves You, Porgy," "My Man's Gone Now," "There's a Boat That's Leavin' Soon for New York," "Summertime," "I Got Plenty o' Nothin'" and "It Ain't Necessarily So."



"The Gershwin and Heyward estates have given us the charge to create a version of Porgy and Bess that will have a unique identity as a musical," Paulus said in a previous statement. "I am delighted to be working with Suzan-Lori Parks on making the characters in the story more fully realized. With one of the most incredible scores ever written, we want to bring Porgy and Bess to life on the musical stage in a way that feels essential, immediate, and passionate."

Parks added, "Our approach is fresh and respectful; we're working to retain all the best-loved elements of the original while crafting a piece that speaks to contemporary audiences." Murray stated that the new production would move the work "forward on its continuum, re-envisioning it for a modern perspective."

The creative team will include choreographer Ronald K. Brown, set designer Riccardo Hernandez, costume designer Emilio Sosa, Tony Award-winning lighting designer Christopher Akerlind. Acme Sound Partners will design sound.

A four-time Tony Award winner for her work in Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime and A Raisin in the Sun, Audra McDonald's work on stage also includes Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny with Patti LuPone, and her Tony nominated performances in 110 in the Shade and Marie Christine. On screen she has appeared in the television adaptations of "A Raisin in the Sun," "Wit" and "Annie."