On Stage: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess

Of all the shows on the schedule for The Muny’s 2014 season, “Porgy and Bess” was the one I was looking forward to the most. It did not disappoint.

This American theater classic by George and Ira Gershwin rarely makes the rounds in the venues I frequent. In fact, it hasn’t played The Muny is more than 25 years. So it was great to finally get to see something old that feels like something new, as opposed to, say, another version of “Les Miserables.”

Porgy-and-Bess-2014-736pxThe production gracing The Muny stage this week is the Broadway National Tour of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.” This is a departure from the theater’s usual modus operandi — which is to create its own productions, usually with additional dancers and elaborate costumes. As a result, the show doesn’t look or feel like a typical Muny show. Which is fine, as “Porgy and Bess” is a smaller scale, more intimate show that would not benefit for a troupe of kids dancing.

The story takes place in the 1930s in a place called Catfish Row and Kittiwah Island in Charleston, South Carolina. Porgy (Nathaniel Stampley) has a lame leg and a booming singing voice. He’s a popular resident of the small village.

Not so popular are Crown (Alvin Crawford), a boisterous troublemaker, and his woman Bess (Alicia Hall Moran). When Crown kills a man after a gambling dispute, he goes on the lam leaving Bess behind.

Bess finds refuge, and eventually love, with Porgy. Despite a checkered past which includes drug use, Porgy takes Bess in and the rest of the community eventually accept her. And then Crown returns.

What “Porgy and Bess” lacks in elaborate costuming and set design (although the set and costumes are perfectly fine for the story being told) it more than makes up for with raw emotion, a lovely musical score and some of the most powerful voices to grace The Muny stage.

The score, featuring timeless Gershwin songs like “Summertime,” I Got Plenty of Nothing” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” are delivered with captivating clarity by Moran, Stampley, Crawford and the rest of the cast — including Kingsley Leggs, Sumayya Ali, David Hughey and Denisha Ballew.

The story, which I was only slightly familiar with, took some unexpected turns and by the end I didn’t know where it was going. That’s refreshing compared to the cookie-cutter plotting that hampers so much of today’s entertainment.

“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” was so entertaining I didn’t mind the rain delay or sitting through it in wet clothes. OK, OK — I hate rain delays and sitting in wet clothes. But it was still worth it.

“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” plays through July 13 at The Muny in Forest Park. http://muny.org/




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