Widely regarded as the first great American opera, Porgy and Bess (first performed in 1935) is a gripping story of grief, temptation, and love. Set in an African-American South Carolina community, it incorporates aspects of classical, gospel, jazz, and blues music in a truly original and innovative form, and remains one of the most important American musical works ever written. Get your Porgy and Bess tickets today and witness this piece of history.
Porgy and Bess Information
About the Show:
Porgy and Bess is one of the greatest accomplishments in the entire theatrical repertoire. Created by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, and DuBose Heyward, it was originally written as an "American folk opera," and is based on Heyward's novel, Porgy and its subsequent stage transfer of the same title, co-written with his wife, Dorothy Heyward. It focuses on the lives of the people in the fictitious African-American neighborhood of "Catfish Row," set in Charleston, South Carolina in the early 1920s. Porgy and Bess debuted in 1935 and broke new ground by featuring an all-African-American cast. Controversial from its inception, it has been criticized as portraying African Americans in a racist way, and it was not recognized as a legitimate opera in the U.S. until a hugely successful 1976 production was staged by the Houston Grand Opera. When New York's Metropolitan Opera staged it nine years later, its reputation as a true classic was cemented.
Despite its controversy, the artistic merits of Porgy and Bess have rarely been challenged. Composer George Gershwin has been praised for his innovative combination of European classical structures with American jazz, blues, gospel, and folk music traditions. The score also uses leitmotifs, or short musical sequences that recur throughout the piece and become associated with people and places. Some of the songs from the score have become standards, including the famous "Summertime," "It Ain't Necessarily So," and "I Got Plenty o' Nothin'."
Though its original operatic form is still presented around the world to this day, Porgy and Bess has been adapted and presented in various forms. In 1959, a film version was made starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge in the title roles. Many of the opera's recitative passages and orchestrations were cut and dialogue was added in to make it more like a traditional musical, to the dismay of the Gershwin estate. Though some critics believe that the opera should not be changed as if there were something wrong with it, it continues to be presented in altered forms to appeal to musical theatre tastes. The 2011 Broadway revival starring Tony-winner Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis, and David Alan Grier is heavily revised for just this reason, and its creative team's reworking strives to bring the show to a new audience. Get your Porgy and Bess tickets today to see this true classic in a fresh, new light.
In Catfish Row, a black, waterside tenement in Charleston, South Carolina, the members of the community go about another Saturday evening. Against their wives' wishes, the men prepare to play craps, while new mother Clara tries to soothe her child to sleep with a lullaby. Porgy, a handicapped beggar, enters on his cart to set up the game when Crown, a rugged dock worker, enters with his woman, Bess. Crown buys some cheap whiskey and dope off of the local dealer, Sportin' Life, while the other women scorn Bess for being brazen and unchaste. When Crown loses the craps game to a man named Robbins, he becomes enraged and fatally stabs him with a cotton hook. He immediately flees, leaving Bess to fend for herself but telling her to be prepared for when he comes back to claim her. Sportin' Life gives Bess some "happy dust" and offers to take her back to New York with him, but she refuses, instead choosing to knock on doors hoping for someone to take her in. Everyone turns her away until she reaches Porgy's door. He lets her in despite the others' judgments.
The next night, Serena, Robbins' wife, prepares for his funeral. Mourners from the community pitch in to cover the cost of the burial, but when Bess tries to donate, Serena rejects her offer until she explains that she is living with Porgy now. Serena panics when a white detective enters and informs her that unless she buries Robbins within 24 hours, his body will be donated to science. Though they haven't raised enough money, the undertaker agrees to bury Robbins as long as Serena pays him back. When Bess begins to sing a gospel song, the others join in and finally accept her into the community.
A month later, Bess and Porgy are living happily together when Sportin' Life comes around again, offering Bess more "happy dust," but she says she has given up drugs. Porgy promises to stay by Bess' side and the two pledge their love for each other. Just as Porgy declares that he has finally found happiness, Bess is invited to a picnic in nearby Kittiwah Island, but Porgy can't go because his disability prevents him from getting on the boat. She initially refuses, but eventually agrees to join the others, leaving Porgy behind. After the joyous picnic, Bess is accosted by Crown, who laughs off her assertion that she is living a decent life now. Though she struggles to get away from him once and for all, he forces himself on her and the boat back to the mainland leaves her behind.
A week later, as Bess is recovering from a fever, Porgy reveals that he knows she has been with Crown. She says she is afraid of his hold on her and begs Porgy to protect her when he comes back for her. At dawn, a hurricane blows in and everyone tries to comfort each other with songs and hymns as they ride out the storm in Serena's apartment. Crown storms in taunting them with his pride and vulgarity. When Clara learns that her fisherman husband, Jake, is in danger, she rushes out to the shore to try and save him, leaving her baby with Bess. In an attempt to prove his manhood, Crown makes fun of Porgy, who can not help, and goes out into the storm to show his strength.
The next night, the community mourns Clara and the fisherman, who have perished. As they begin to mourn Crown, Sportin' Life laughs at them, suggesting that he may have conquered the storm. Once it is dark, Crown sneaks into Catfish Row and tries to steal Bess away, but Porgy confronts him. In the ensuing brawl, Porgy kills Crown and rejoices with Bess. The next day, a white detective enters inquiring about Crown's murder. When Porgy admits to knowing Crown, he is taken away to identify the body. With Porgy gone, Sportin' Life tempts Bess with more "happy dust" and an offer to look after her in New York. She rushes inside and shuts him out, but he leaves some a packet of dope on her doorstep and waits.
About a week later, Porgy returns, having won a great deal of money gambling with his jail mates. As he gives gifts to the community, he suspects something is wrong. They tell him that Bess has gone off with Sportin' Life to New York, and he vows to find her and bring her home. After praying for strength, he departs. Grab your own Porgy and Bess tickets to see this dramatic classic story live.
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