The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, Starring Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald, Begins at A.R.T. Aug. 17

News   The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, Starring Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald, Begins at A.R.T. Aug. 17
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, a new look at the George and Ira Gershwin-DuBose Heyward folk opera, starring Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald, bows at the American Repertory Theater Aug. 17 in Cambridge, MA.

Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis
Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis Photo by Michael Lutch

A.R.T. artistic director Diane Paulus, a Tony Award nominee for the 2008 revival of Hair, is staging the Broadway-bound production, which re-imagines the traditionally sung-through, four-hour opera, as a two-and-a-half-hour musical with dialogue for contemporary audiences.

Billed as The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, the new staging has enlisted Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog, Book of Grace) and Pulitzer Prize nominee Diedre Murray (Running Man) to offer back story and fresh perspective into the inhabitants of Catfish Row.

The anticipated production also made headlines when the intentions of the new creative team were brought into question. Read the story here.

Porgy and Bess will open Aug. 31 at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, MA, for a run through Oct. 2. It will then transfer to Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre Dec. 17 towards a Jan. 12, 2012, opening night. Tony-winning producers Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel co-present the engagement with A.R.T.

"This is a masterpiece," Paulus told "Not only musically, but in its bones. It's great theatre. Great emotion and power." Paulus also described the work she and her team were doing to bring Porgy and Bess to new audiences. "In an opera house, it's on an operatic scale — big orchestra, many people onstage, epic presentation. Broadway means making it more intimate, focusing on characters and drama — listening to words, not just getting washed over by glorious music but hearing what the characters are singing — some of the greatest lyrics of all time," she said. Read the complete interview here.

Diane Paulus
photo by Diane Paulus

Lewis (Sondheim on Sondheim, Side Show, Les Miserables) stars as 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) as Jake.

At this time, only Lewis, McDonald and Grier are announced to appear in the Broadway transfer.

The cast also includes 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 features Allison Blackwell, Roosevelt Andre Credit, Trevon Davis, Joseph Dellger, Wilkie Ferguson, Alicia Hall Moran, Andrea Jones-Sojola, and Lisa Nicole Wilkerson. The Coroner is played by Joseph Dellger.

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 will design sound. Orchestrations are by William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke, with music supervision by David Loud. Sheilah Walker is conductor.

Porgy and Bess has 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."

According to A.R.T., "This classic American tale tells the story of the beautiful and troubled Bess, who turns to Porgy, the crippled beggar, in search of safety after her possessive lover Crown commits murder. As Porgy and Bess’s love grows, their future is threatened by Crown and the conniving Sportin' Life."

For tickets to the A.R.T. run, visit AmericanRepertoryTheater. A.R.T. is located at 64 Brattle Street in Cambridge, MA.

Tickets for the Broadway engagement go on sale to the general public Sept. 12 via

David Alan Grier and company
David Alan Grier and company Photo by Michael Lutch
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