Theater Review: 'The Gershwins' Porgy And Bess' At The Ahmanson
"The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess" is a new reimagining of George and Ira Gershwin’s opera/musical "Porgy and Bess." It tells the story of the residents of Catfish Row, the poor black section of late 1930s Charleston, South Carolina. When Crown (Alvin Crawford), a moonshine-swilling criminal, kills a man, he flees, telling his addict wife Bess to find a place to stay. As the police come closer, Bess is turned away from every door except that of the town cripple, Porgy. As time goes by and Crown doesn’t return, Bess stops using “Happy Dust” provided by the drug dealer Sportin' Life (Kingsley Leggs) and is gradually accepted by the residents of Catfish Row and she and Porgy fall in love. Just when it looks like Bess has turned her life around, Crown returns from banishment and Sporting Life returns from New York, forcing Bess to choose between a happy, quiet life of poverty with Porgy or a high-rolling, addict lifestyle in New York.
The score of Porgy and Bess has influences from opera, folk music, gospel, and call-and-response work songs, so any singers cast are required to have incredible voices. That being said, Alicia Hall Moran’s haunting soprano and Nathaniel Stampley’s rich baritone are standouts in their own right and complement each other beautifully. Other standout voices include Jake (David Hughey) and The Strawberry Woman (Sarita Rachelle Lilly).
In terms of acting, Moran brings an earnest life to the role of Bess. Somehow graceful despite her ungainly speech and drunken ways, Moran has a commanding presence on stage. Danielle Lee Greaves' Mariah is larger than life, with brilliant comedic timing and attitude to spare. Alvin Crawford is equally compelling as Crown, and at times downright terrifying.
Christopher Akerlind’s lighting design is absolutely breathtaking, reminiscent of a lazy summer’s day, then terrifying in its depiction of a hurricane. ESosa’s costume design is beautiful as well, and subtly indicated in every scene how close Bess was to earning the acceptance of Catfish Row. Ronald K. Brown’s choreography is fantastic, bringing elements of African jazz and tribal music to the already multi-genre show. The only issues in terms of technical elements on opening night seemed to be with Acme Sound Partners’ sound design; at times the microphones gave off so much static that it was impossible to clearly hear what the actors were singing.
Diane Paulus’ direction of "The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess" is mesmerizing. It features a cast of strong actors, abundant laughs amidst serious moments, and some of the most beautiful vocals this side of Broadway. Get a chance to see this show while it’s in town.
“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is playing through June 1 at the Ahmanson Theatre (135 N. Grand Avenue, downtown). Tickets are $30-$95. For more information visit CenterTheatreGroup.org.
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You can contact contributing writer Molly Quinlan here.