The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, Starring Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald, Begins Broadway Previews Dec. 17

By Adam Hetrick
December 17, 2011

Three-quarters of a century after its New York premiere, the iconic American opera The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess returns to Broadway in a refocused production starring Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald. Previews begin Dec. 17 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.



Originally penned as a four-hour folk opera, The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess arrives at the Richard Rodgers in a streamlined two-and-a-half-hour staging. At the helm of the production, now billed as a musical, is Tony Award-nominated director Diane Paulus (Hair). It will officially open Jan. 12, 2012, for a limited run through June 24, 2012.

Porgy and Bess has music by George Gershwin, lyrics by his brother Ira and a book and additional lyrics by DuBose Heyward. It is based on the play Porgy, by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward.

The Gershwin and Heyward estates gave their blessing to Tony-nominated Hair director Paulus to bring fresh context to Porgy and Bess for contemporary audiences. This production first premiered at the American Repertory Theater last summer, where Paulus is artistic director.

The authors' estates greenlit the staging for Broadway, which arrives with the A.R.T. company in tow. It is produced by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel and Rebecca Gold.

The creative team also boasts Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog, Book of Grace), who is credited with adaptation and additional scenes, and Pulitzer Prize nominee Diedre Murray (Running Man), credited with musical adaptation.

"We went back and looked at all the original sources, the 1925 novel that Dubose Heyward wrote called 'Porgy,' the play that he wrote with his wife in 1927, [and] we looked at the movie that Sydney Poitier made… even that fed our approach on this," Paulus told Playbill.com. She said the creative team's goal was to "take a classic from the past and bring it forward not in a way that updates it or changes it, but makes the original pulse like it was written yesterday."

David Alan Grier
photo by Michael Lutch

"It's a beautiful, beautiful opera," Parks added. "Often in my own work, I reach back into the past to bring things forward. My work is almost a bridge for stories; it seemed very natural [to work on Porgy and Bess]. I felt like I'd been called."

Lewis (Sondheim on Sondheim, Side Show, Les Miserables) stars as the crippled beggar Porgy opposite four-time Tony Award winner McDonald (Ragtime, Marie Christine, Master Class) as Bess. They are joined by two-time Tony nominee David Alan Grier (The First, Race, Dreamgirls) as Sportin' Life and Tony nominee Joshua Henry (The Scottsboro Boys, American Idiot) as Jake.

The cast also features Nikki Renee Daniels as Clara, Phillip Boykin as Crown, Bryonha Marie Parham as Serena, NaTasha Yvette Williams as Maria, Cedric Neal as Frazier, J.D. Webster as Mingo, Heather Hill as Lily, Phumzile Sojola as Peter and Nathaniel Stampley as Robbins.

The ensemble includes Allison Blackwell, Roosevelt Andre Credit, Trevon Davis, Joseph Dellger, Wilkie Ferguson, Alicia Hall Moran, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Lisa Nicole Wilkerson, Christopher Innvar, Carmen Ruby Floyd, David Hughey and Julius Thomas III.

The creative team includes choreographer Ronald K. Brown, set designer Riccardo Hernandez, costume designer Emilio Sosa and Tony Award-winning lighting designer Christopher Akerlind. Acme Sound Partners design sound. Orchestrations are by William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke, with music supervision by David Loud.

According to the producers, Porgy and Bess "is set in Charleston’s fabled Catfish Row, where the beautiful Bess struggles to break free from her scandalous past, and the only one who can rescue her is the crippled but courageous Porgy. Threatened by her formidable former lover Crown, and the seductive enticements of the colorful troublemaker Sporting Life, Porgy and Bess’ relationship evolves into a deep romance that triumphs as one of theater’s most exhilarating love stories."

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."

For tickets, visit Ticketmaster.com. The Richard Rodgers Theatre is located at 226 West 46th Street.