Tonight I enjoyed the best piece of theatre that I have seen in a very long time. In fact, I can’t remember ever seeing a better demonstration of Musical Theatre. ‘Porgy and Bess’ is an American classic and essentially the first American Opera. This version is different. It is no longer sung through. Dialogue has been introduced sparingly, allowing the audience more opportunity to involve themselves in the situations of each character, and this dialogue is then interspersed with moments of sung commentary, adding a surprising amount of humour to such a dramatic piece.
There really was no weakness in this show. Every cast member was superb vocally, dramatically and remarkably, choreographically. Although it certainly wasn’t the strongest show dance wise, the choreography suited each song and the characters perfectly. Vocally, the show employs a cast of Opera singers, resulting in a beautifully sung score. Most impressive is the blend that the ensemble manage to achieve. The most beautiful moment, an a’capella chorus in the second act that had me on the edge of my seat because of the extreme rhythmic and dynamic contrast. It’s very difficult to pick out a star perfumer vocally from the leads. Both Norm Lewis as Porgy and Audra McDonald as Bess were brilliant, in fact, inspiring.
Where this production truly exceeded my expectations was dramatically. Having been given a script, every actor was beyond committed to their role. When Jake Robbins dies in the first act, the cry of horror from Clara, played by Nikki Renee Daniels, was so terrifying that the following silence felt as if the hook had been driven through you. Also, Audra McDonald’s portrayal of Bess in each act was in such stark contrast that I couldn’t believe it was the same character. Where in the first, you saw her as evil, violent and ravaged by addiction, in the second she came out as reformed, loving and genuine, a truly remarkable shift.
I could write so much more on the qualities of this version of ‘Porgy and Bess’ but I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anyone who even might get a chance to see it. If you can see it live, you must and if there happens to be a videoed performance, make sure you find it. In my opinion, it’s the best musical on Broadway.