‘The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess’: What did the critics think?


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Normally, a revival of ‘Porgy and Bess’ -- the popular 1935 opera by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward -- wouldn’t merit a flood of press coverage. But the new Broadway-bound production at American Repertory Theatre that opened this week is no ordinary revival of the operatic warhorse.

Revamped with a new ending and character backstories, this ‘Porgy and Bess’ is a revisionist take on the piece that has generated no small amount of controversy. In August, composer Stephen Sondheim lashed out at the production, sight unseen, for the creative liberties it has taken with the text. Sondheim criticized director Diane Paulus, actress Audra McDonald and playwright Suzan-Lori Parks for what he sees as an unnecessary overhaul of the show.


(As it happens, Sondheim and McDonald will appear separately in October at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.)

The new production, which is titled ‘The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,’ is running in Cambridge, Mass., through Oct. 2. It is expected to open on Broadway in January at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Here are some of the early reviews of the production...

The Boston Globe’s Don Aucoin wrote that ‘as it turns out, Sondheim needn’t have worried ... [the revisions] are largely faithful to the spirit and the structure of the original.’ As for McDonald’s performance, she is a ‘Bess for the ages.’ Ben Brantley of the New York Times described the production as anxious and confused but praised McDonald’s performance as Bess, writing that it is ‘as complete and complex a work of musical portraiture as any I’ve seen in years.’ As for the controversy surrounding the production, the ‘transformations turn out to be less drastic than were feared or hoped for.’


Stephen Sondheim and the case of ‘Porgy and Bess’

Music review: ‘Porgy and Bess’ at the Hollywood Bowl

-- David Ng