×

Porgy and Bess

Bess ... Vanessa Stewart, etc.

With:
Porgy ... William Marshall, etc. Crown ... Stephen Finch Serena ...Angela R. Simpson, etc. Clara ... Iris Fairfax, etc. Sportin' Life ... John Lesane

Bess … Vanessa Stewart, etc.

Also with: Cornelius White, Marenda Perry, Elizabeth Graham, Roberta Laws, Bridgette Louise Cooper, Gail Blache-Gill, Marjorie Wharton, Marvin Lowe, Gordon Easley, Leon Browne, Valerie Hamm, Sabrina Carten, Danrell Williams, Ozie Jamison, Jerrod Sanders, Casey L. McClellan, Johnnie Jackson, Julianna Kelley, Rita Madero, Louisa Sebron.

One of the most pleasant surprises — and, at $ 30 top, best values — on the touring circuit is this long-running Charleston, S.C., production of the Gershwins'”Porgy and Bess.” Produced by Living Arts Inc. president Peter Klein in a way that makes low-priced tickets possible, it’s been on the road periodically since December 1992 throughout the U.S. and Canada.

(The latest leg of its tour was scheduled to end with three performances in Albuquerque, N.M., the week following its New Haven weekend. In June it will play nine performances in Israel in the outdoor Caesarea Roman Amphitheater. And in the fall it will resume its U.S. touring, including return engagements.)

The cast (which rotates all of the major roles) is made up largely of performers with experience in other “Porgy and Bess” productions, and vocally the production is hearteningly strong, led at New Haven’s two matinees by William Marshall’s exceptional Porgy. The possessor of a deep, rich, pure baritone and incomparably clear diction, Marshall is also a big, powerful man — thereby making plausible the scene in which Porgy kills Crown (played with daring physicality by Stephen Finch).

Marshall’s singing and charisma are major reasons why the production’s ending is so genuinely moving. It’s not surprising to learn that after he’s shared the role of Porgy with Brian Gibson in Israel, Marshall will take over the role of Joe in Hal Prince’s smash-hit Toronto revival of “Show Boat.”

At the performance seen, Bess was played by Vanessa Stewart, a tall, striking woman. Stewart, who first appears in scarlet velvet, lives up to that vivid dress. She has a lustrous, if sometimes slightly unfocused, dramatic soprano voice, which she uses with an all-out recklessness that’s entirely apt for the role. And she and Marshall sing and interact passionately.

As good as they are, they’d be even better if the production as a whole had more forceful and imaginative direction. The skeletal Catfish Row setting, switched to other locales by the use of changing backdrops and a sail-like drape , is perfectly acceptable. So are the costumes from the Virginia Opera’s 1992 production.

Also bringing rich operatic voices to the production are Angela R. Simpson’s large-scale Serena and Iris Fairfax’s lyrical Clara. John Lesane’s Sportin’ Life is more sung than acted, the pluses and minuses of this straight approach coming out about even. The full cast’s choral singing is particularly impressive, and the miking leaves the voices sounding blessedly natural.

The reduced, 17-member orchestra is well prepared by David Stahl and conducted by Richard Cordova, though the sound isn’t always ideally full. And as is often the case with “Porgy and Bess,” this production cuts some music and characters, though it still runs nearly three hours, with one intermission. Given the vocal and dramatic demands of the opera, this attractively priced touring production is a small miracle.

Popular on Variety

Porgy and Bess

Production: NEW HAVEN A Living Arts Inc. touring presentation of an opera in two acts with music by George Gershwin, book by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Directed by Will Roberson. Charleston Symphony Orchestra (David Stahl, musical director; Richard Cordova, conductor).

Crew: Sets, James Fouchard; costumes, Candace Donnelly; lighting, John McLain; sound, Duncan Edwards; choreography, Kevin Jeff; tour direction, William Weir; orchestral adaptation, Steve Cohen; Shubert Performing Arts Center executive director, Caroline Werth. Opened, reviewed April 9, 1994, at the Shubert Theater. 1,616 seats; $ 30 top.

With: Porgy ... William Marshall, etc. Crown ... Stephen Finch Serena ...Angela R. Simpson, etc. Clara ... Iris Fairfax, etc. Sportin' Life ... John Lesane

More Film

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content