The Opera Porgy And Bess Gets A Make-Over

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

Fish are jumpin’

And the cotton is high

We’ve all heard the song “Summertime” (Fantasia did an incredible version of it when she competed on American Idol) but many of us may not realize that it originally came from the groundbreaking opera Porgy and Bess — and that this opera has a unique history in DC.

David Allan Grier and the Original Cast of the 2012 Tony Award-winning Broadway Revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess

Premiering in New York in 1935,  Porgy and Bess was the first opera to feature an entire cast of classically trained African American singers. But that wasn’t the only first engendered by this pioneering production. Todd Duncan, the original Porgy, was a Howard University professor. He, along with his co-star Anne Brown (Bess), led a cast strike protesting audience segregation at the National Theatre when the show made its DC debut in 1936.  As a result, Porgy and Bess played to the theater’s first integrated audience.

Created by George & Ira Gershwin with Dubose & Dorothy Heyward, Porgy and Bess is a love story set in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina in the early 1920’s. It tells the tale of Porgy, a disabled black beggar and his attempts to rescue his love, Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin’ Life, the drug dealer. (source)

Now those of you who may have seen Porgy and Bess may say, “Nikki yes I understand the significance of this opera but it’s OPERA, not exactly the kind of theatre I prefer, and the overall production is filled with stereotypes.”  Well guess what?

There is a new Porgy and Bess coming to the National Theatre in December. It has been reimagined, parts have been rewritten and reinvented. It has been transformed from a dated opera into a fresh new musical theatre production.  Can we say REMIX?

How?  Well that is what I talk to the Director, Diane Paulus, about. How do we flesh out stereotypical characters but still stay true to the original script? (Hint: bring in award winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks). What’s it like for DMV native Sumayya Ali, (who was first introduced to the opera as a student at Duke Ellington) to be a part of this process and perform in this production? What can you expect when it comes to DC in December? All that and more inside The Scene at 12:30pm today on SiriusXM141 HUR Voices.

Here are some of the show highlights: