That apart, the new “Porgy” scores mightily on sheer energy. Staged by “Jelly’s Last Jam’s” Hope Clark (with some reportedly unwelcome “additional staging” by Tazewell Thompson) on Ken Foy’s movable sets that seemingly capture Catfish Row down to its very fragrance, and handsomely paced by Houston’s music director John DeMain, the show’s three-plus hours whiz by.
Two sets of principals are employed. The opening-night pairing included Marquita Lister’s gloriously rubber-legged Bess and the hugely resonant Serena of Luvenia Garner; Alvy Powell’s intense, moving Porgy seemed somewhat dwarfed by the acoustical demands of the house, as was Larry Marshall’s Sportin’ Life, a holdover from the 1976 Houston and the Metropolitan Opera’s production.
History’s verdict on “Porgy” is not yet in. What is unmistakable in the work, and splendidly underlined in this handsome new production, is the overwhelming sense of belief its creators poured into the work. The Gershwins, together or singly, never again touched the heights, or the emotional depths, of this one-of-a-kind work; they knew better than to try.