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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
5th Avenue Theatre


Kingsley Leggs
Of course it's The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess—whose Porgy & Bess were we expecting, Rodgers & Hammerstein's? But call it what it is, an opera, not a Broadway musical. Not that director Diane Paulus and Book adapter Suzan-Lori Parks haven't tried to make it a sleeker, shorter, jazzier show. They succeeded only in diminishing the power of a genuine American work of art. What we have in the touring production at the 5th is the glorious Gershwin music and lyrics (as well as the work of original libretto and lyric collaborators DuBose and Dorothy Heyward) and voices glorious enough to do it justice, amidst what feels like a CliffsNotes production.

Focusing on that cast, it's easy to single out Nathaniel Stampley as the warm-hearted crippled beggar Porgy. Stampley enacts the role with an open heart and sings in a voice of glory and power, from "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" to the climactic "Oh Lord, I'm On My Way." He has an honest chemistry with his Bess, lovely Alicia Hall Moran, who credibly captures the struggle of the troubled, drug-addled heroine, and soars on her rendition of "I Loves You Porgy" and throughout the score. Kingsley Leggs, a welcome familiar face from his Seattle Rep appearances, here shows off his song and dance man skills in full measure, as his viper-like drug pusher Sporting Life is afforded two of the showiest numbers in the piece, "It Ain't Necessarily So," and "There's A Boat That's Leaving Soon." Sumayya Ali as young mother Clara is quite touching on the show's opening/best loved song "Summertime," and David Hughey as her husband Jake is impressive on "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing." As Bess' brutish former lover Crown, Alvin Crawford is as physically prepossessing as he is emotionally explosive, and knocks one out of the park with "A Red Headed Woman." The rest of the fine ensemble sound great (given the show was not meant to be amplified), but, with the cuts and changes in the material, do not manage to register as strongly as they should.

Ronald K. Brown's choreography is functional but undistinguished, Ricardo Hernandez's scenic design is lackluster and visually characterless, and the only real standout element of the technical production is a ravishing costume design teeming with pinpoint detail and period accuracy by ESosa.

The Houston Grand Opera's 1976 version of plain ol' Porgy and Bess in its resonant full-length, unamplified glory at the Pantages in Los Angeles remains emblazoned in my memory. Paulus and company's The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess is already a distant memory.

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess at the 5th Avenue Theatre through June 29th, 2014. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org. For more information on the tour, visit porgyandbessthemusical.com.


Photo: Michael J. Lutch



- David Edward Hughes



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