A story of hardship, love and loss recently came to Cleveland’s own theater district. As part of the 2013-2014 KeyBank Broadway Series, The Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” played at PlayhouseSquare this month. The show was directed by Diane Paulus, artistic director of the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University.
“Porgy and Bess” starts off in the fictional Catfish Row neighborhood of 1930s Charleston, S.C. It tells the story of an unexpected romance between crippled bachelor Porgy and booze-swigging, morally loose Bess. When Bess’ husband of five years, Crown, kills another man during a drunken argument and is left no choice but to skip town, Porgy offers Bess refuge in his home. Shortly after, the two begin to fall for one another despite their different backgrounds. However, Bess’ past and Porgy’s impairments soon complicate their relationship.
The cast as a whole displayed dynamic and skillful vocal talent alongside impressively coordinated choreography. The dancing suited the mood of each scene, ranging from lively celebration to solemn mourning. The Gershwins’ score was moving and well-executed by the 23-piece live orchestra.
Nearly every song received immediate, thunderous applause. The theatre was almost filled to capacity, and the audience responded with appropriately strong reactions to several key moments in the play.
The audience became more invested in the lives of the characters as the show went on. This could be attributed to the strength of the acting and the performers’ ability to hold the audience captive for the duration of the two hour and thirty minute musical.
Nathaniel Stampley captivated the audience emotionally through his heart-wrenching portrayal of Porgy’s devotion to Bess amid his lifelong struggles. His vocals soared with a range of emotions and no shortage of believability.
Alicia Hall Moran realistically embodied the plights of Bess’ life. While the events of Bess’ story are dramatic in nature, Moran humanized her character in a way that was believable. Her singing was effortless and entertaining.
The set on stage was simple as to not overpower the great scenes and story. The simple backdrops of every scene allowed the dramatic storyline to be the main focus of the show. In keeping with the set, the costumes were also minimalistic and appropriate for the time period in which the musical takes place.
“Porgy and Bess” premiered on Broadway on Oct. 10, 1935. The story originally came from the Edwin DuBose Heyward novel “Porgy.” According to PBS, the show took half a century to gain notoriety by performing at the Metropolitan Opera.
In 2012, this particular rendition won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. It has received praise from Time Magazine, The New Yorker and The Associated Press.
The tour will continue its run until its last show in Charlotte, N.C. on July 20.