The Columns

75th Anniversary Production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” to be Presented at W&L

— by on February 23rd, 2010

Washington and Lee University’s Lenfest Center, Concert Guild and the Class of ’64 join together to present the 75th anniversary tour of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” on Monday, March 22 and Tuesday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the Keller Theatre.

The drama of love, murder and hope on Catfish Row springs to life in a new production with riveting choreography and glamorous costumes. Produced by opera impresario Michael Capasso, general manager of New York’s Dicapo Opera Theatre, in association with noted producer Willette Murphy Klausner, this spectacular new production is directed by the brilliant African American Charles Randolph-Wright.

Tickets are limited – order your tickets today online at lenfest.wlu.edu or call the Lenfest box office at 458-8000 to purchase tickets.

“Porgy and Bess” melds classical music, popular song, jazz, blues and spirituals in this quintessentially American masterpiece that tells the poignant story of a crippled beggar, the headstrong woman he loves, and the community that sustains them both. Passion, jealousy, murder and poverty make up the heady brew of this evocative story. Porgy, a downtrodden but generous beggar, haunts the streets known as “Catfish Row,” a poor district of early 20th-century segregated Charleston, S.C. Ardently in love with the prostitute Bess, Porgy has to share his affections with her violent former lover Crown and the roguish suitor Sportin’ Life. Set in South Carolina in 1912 you will hear the classic arias: “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Summertime.” This operatic masterpiece has spawned a string of hit songs that have become international icons of the American tradition.

“Porgy and Bess” is probably the most famous and most successful American opera from the 20th century, and at times it has been the most controversial. Based on DuBose Heyward’s novel, Porgy, and the play that was adapted from the novel, it has long been considered the crowning achievement in the stellar careers of the authors. To this day, the story of the crippled beggar transformed by his unexpected and improbable love for Bess is performed all over the world by theater and opera companies.

“Porgy and Bess” opened in New York at the Alvin Theatre on October 10, 1935. The landmark 1953 Broadway revival toured for years as a goodwill ambassador on behalf of the U.S. State Department, and in 1959 the opera was finally filmed by Samuel Goldwyn. Although Gershwin had hoped for “Porgy and Bess” to be premiered at the Metropolitan Opera, his plans were thwarted by the sudden death of Metropolitan Opera Board Chairman Otto Kahn.

The opera toured Europe and North and South America throughout the 1950s, and was the first work by an American to be produced at La Scala in Milan, Italy. It enjoyed tremendous success. In its 75-year history, no other opera or musical has employed more African Americans. The work was not widely accepted in the United States as “real” opera until 1976 when the Houston Grand Opera staged “Porgy and Bess” with the original score and orchestration. Nine years later, the Metropolitan Opera gave its first performance of the work, including it in its Saturday afternoon live broadcast series.

Michael Capasso, the driving force behind the myriad projects produced by Dicapo Opera Theatre, extols the virtues of “Porgy and Bess”: “Irresistible in its melodies, moving in its depiction of love’s power in the face of all odds, ‘Porgy and Bess’ stands before the world as the greatest opera ever written by a native-born American. It has long been a dream of mine to produce this quintessentially American operatic classic, and I hope and trust that audiences all across the country will share my enthusiasm for this new production of George Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’.”

“Porgy and Bess” director Charles Randolph-Wright has built a dynamic and diversified career in directing, writing and producing for theater, television and film. Randolph-Wright has written and directed the film “Mama, I Want to Sing,” based on the renowned stage musical, which will be released commercially in movie theaters in February 2010, starring Lynn Whitfield, Ciara, Patti LaBelle, Hill Harper, Ben Vereen and Billy Zane. He also directed the television series “Lincoln Heights” (ABC Family) as well as the musical “They’re Playing Our Song,” in Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo, Brazil. Film credits include directing the award-winning “Preaching to the Choir,” and writing screenplays for Showtime, HBO, Disney, Castle Rock and Fox.