‘Porgy and Bess’ adaptation an intimate portrayal of Catfish Row

Plays through June 29 at 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle.Tickets start at $29; 206-625-1900 or 5thavenue.org

Alicia Hall Moran as Bess and Nathaniel Stampley as Porgy.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
By George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin
Book adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks
Musical Score adapted by Diedre L. Murray
Directed by Diane Paulus
Through June 29 at 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle.Tickets start at $29; 206-625-1900 or 5thavenue.org
Tickets start at $29; 206-625-1900 or 5thavenue.org

When the Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” was first staged in 1935, it unleashed a number of musical hits into the soundscape, from “It Ain’t Necessarily So” to “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.” By itself, “Summertime” is one of the most popularly covered songs in musical historywith more than 30,000 known recordings.

The opera itself fared worse and was only sporadically recognized as a proper entry into the art form — it would take New York City’s Metropolitan Opera 50 years of discussion before the company finally staged the production in 1985. “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess: The Musical” was only the latest of a number of adaptations meant to make the opera more accessible to musical theater audiences, cut in time by nearly half with plot changes and spoken word additions to flesh out the characters beyond their broad operatic archetypes.

So perhaps the strongest accomplishment of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess: The Musical” is how it manages to remain connected to its source material’s operatic roots. Sure, “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “A Woman is a Sometimes Thing” have become high-energy dance spectacles (the Broadway format demands at least a few), but songs like “My Man’s Gone Now” remain dripping with the vocal melodrama of their original arias.

Combined with the stripped down set design of Catfish Row and Kittitah Island, the travails of a tight-knit Depression-era black community are given fresh life.

But this leg of the show’s national tour has its share of problems, which can be summed up in the sound production.

Though Alicia Hall Moran’s voice is beautiful, it struggles to be heard under the power of the 32-piece orchestra during softer songs.

 

 

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