It Ain’t Necessarily So… But perhaps, maybe it is! The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess may have a zingier title, but it still possesses its classic nature at heart. Based off the novel Porgy and originally conceived as an opera entitled, Porgy and Bess, this musical is a new, successful attempt at reviving a classic love story. When it premiered at the Colonial Theatre in 1935, it made history as the first show to have the largest all black cast ever to be seen on an American stage. The show also ignited social change as it became the first show to be performed in front of a fully integrated audience at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. The current version that is making its way across America is much shorter than the opera and more appealing to a contemporary audience, but it also exposes black culture in a humanizing manner.
The Gerswhins’ Porgy and Bess will always have a special place in my heart. I had the pleasure of seeing the original production on Broadway in 2012, making it my first Broadway show! I have been affected by its stellar storytelling since my attendance. As an African-American theatre artist, I was compelled to see it not only because of its classic and historic nature, but also because of its personal touch of expressing the experiences of my racial background. When I arrived to see the Wednesday matinée performance, I was not ready to receive the visceral reactions that would later come. The ensemble’s passionate voices and the pride, sorrow and utmost joy exuded in the music and dance left me dumbstruck and moved me to tears. To see this community dealing with everyday life through lively dancing and heart-breaking music was amazing. At one point, I forgot that I was simply an audience member and felt a serene, intimate connection to the community. Although I had heard the famous song “Summertime” plenty times before, there was something new, refreshing, and enlightening about its delivery and it made me cry, smile, and laugh. There is something to be said when a song, about a community of the 1920s, gives you a roller coaster of emotions nearly 80 years after it was created in the 1930s. This can be said for all of the songs in the show, with my favorites being “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, a jazzy, uppity number and “I Loves You, Porgy” a sincere ballad sung by the title characters. I can’t explain the chilling goosebumps I received from seeing this show. There simply are no words. It’s an opportunity that you just have to experience to understand its magic. When I saw that Porgy and Bess was on tour and coming to the Wharton Center, I could not contain my excitement. I still can’t contain my excitement! Although it will be a different cast from the original, I am interested in how the actors and actresses will take this story and not only make it their own, but also continue to showcase its classic nature and make it accessible to everyone. Regardless of who is playing what character or what skin tone or cultural background the audience member is, the music, dancing, and plain spirit of this musical just tugs at your soul. It’s artistically refreshing! As Black History Month comes to a close, my hope is that many diverse people, organizations, and communities attend the show. Black History Month is not only about learning, honoring, and celebrating the achievements of black men and women throughout history, but also about bringing all communities together for communal growth and The Gerswhins’ Porgy and Bess transcends this! Set in the factious Catfish Row, the story centers on the relationship of Porgy, a crippled black man, and Bess, a troubled yet beautiful drug addict. Their relationship blossoms after Bess is left behind by her lover, Crown who has committed a serious crime. When Crown returns for Bess, trouble exudes and the relationship between Porgy and Bess becomes more complicated. The vices and virtues of the community amidst the oncoming peril of a storm spices up the dynamic of the story and makes it an irresistible watch.
For more information on the show and to buy tickets, please visit http://www.whartoncenter.com/events/detail/the-gershwins-porgy-and-bess or call 1-800-WHARTON. ___________________________________________________
Adia Alli is a senior theatre major at Michigan State University. She is heavily involved with the Department of Theatre as an actress and stage manager. Adia is currently the secretary for Students Performing Arts Resource Council. She loves watching Spartan basketball, baking, and hanging out with friends and family.