Yes, I know, what you’re thinking, if you’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them all. That age, old story, boy meets girl in need of help, girl meets boy, who is more than willing to help girl. Porgy and Bess an old classic staged in the most elegant of settings, the Ahmanson. The present cast of Porgy and Bess, could do no wrong, receiving loud claps from all sides of the room. The audience filled up with the young, not so young, black, white and all shades in between. Some Los Angeles based celebrities, elegantly graced a blue-ti-fully colored Porgy and Bess backdrop stretched on the outside wall of the venue. Actress, Angela Bassett, with beau, actor, Courtney B. Vance, laughed and both were tickled with catch up conversations held outside and in and around the theater, while guest vocalist like, Freda Payne spoke candidly with local ABC News anchorman about the performance. Other Hollywood attendees included, Kiki Shephard, Kym Whitley, Briana Michole White, Kenny Lattimore, Rochelle Aytes, David Talbert, Keith David, Mike Medavoy, Darrin Henson, Brenda Strong and Diane Paulus, to name a few.
Many who are new to the musical sat with others who have seen it at least once. The Gershwin’s, for those of you who do not know, had the first showing of the historical piece in Boston’s Colonial Theater in 1935. Times were very different then. According to the historical facts by the Ahmanson’s theater program guide, the production closed down after only 124 performances, after a change in location to Broadway. Gershwin broke some records with out of the box, pre-mixing skills before hip-hop made them heard by blending blues, jazz and gospel made popular by African-Americans. Set on the famed “Catfish Row,” the production set out on a National tour in 1936. The original cast appeared on that tour which included, top theater stars, Anne Brown and Todd Duncan. Much like the legendary, Ray Charles who refused to play in Georgia , Duncan at the third leg of the tour, refused to perform for Washington, D.C’s segregated, National Theater. The cast pulled a strike fest after the Producers poked fun at the idea of an integrated house. Duncan and Brown’s cast however, got their way and National made history becoming the first theater to make such a bold move. Now just for your consideration and if you are up for a mental challenge, let’s put a different spin on this classic piece. If Jay Z was Porgy and Beyoncé were Bess, what do you think the cast would look like? What would Gershwin’s score sound like Pharrell produced and Danny Elfman, scored? Perhaps, collaborators like the SXSX would throw in a pair of high tech streetlights that are motion sensitive. Z would brilliantly deliver some serve up a crib to stay for the night, to, Beyoncé. The elaborate costuming and sometimes torn clothing, trimmed to fit a perfect Josephine Baker statuesque. All of the girls in the cast would stand tall proud and strong, while dancing to the tune of booty-licious. Will a Broadway play ever come about to trump, Porgy and Bess? Is it possible to transcend and re-produce a performance, already deemed perfect by the thousands, who have paid to go see it? All leading ladies up for the part of Bess, would be cast in the hottest and most provocative of rip and tear wear. Porgy could easily slip into a perfectly customized and design for street wear, titanium leg. Taking a closer look, in today’s lifestyles of the poor, we have public services to help with job assistance.
We have women dying to take off their clothes. Skin colors are up for grab now from getting a dark tan to lightening ones skin. Women no longer need or desire to be rescued by men. Beyoncé proves that by making equal the money or more than hubby, Jay. Even young women these days, want to own their homes, while maintaining their happily single status, which often offers a cast of friends with benefits. They don’t want one man necessarily, either. I highly doubt if Bess would put up with all of that jealousy from her sisters of the hood, in 2014, she would be throwing some serious shade, ”Atlanta Housewives”, style. Again, I say, to you, if a Taylor Swift showed up on stage as Bess, how would it look? Would Gershwin’s , Porgy & Bess be butchered with nuances and unnecessary cliché’s? Or remain intact with its original intent, to admire and even adore, the plight of the American negro, aka African American, aka Black. This 2014 cast had to be working hard under the stage lights while their elasticized bodies were in perfect timing with the orchestra in the pit. The house was full, and although Porgy portrayed as a cripple, he was a good looking one.
The Ahmanson performance brochure makes mention of the fact that they are assertively seeking a way to bring more youth to the theater. Perhaps if they developed an updated version to an age-old story, the youth might come flying in. Perhaps if the lyrics were matched to Kanye, Drake , Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Katy Perry thrown in with a little Pink added for effects, the kids would get it. Who will explain the story to them? Will they be allowed to have their interpretation and express how they feel about the images portrayed of slaves or images of how black folk were in-humanely treated in those days? Porgy and Bess is not a “Twilight” series. This is some real in yo face, American history. What if at some future date, someone discovered that, back during a time when American composers of color were not allowed to own and make claim to their compositions, “Gershwin’s, Porgy and Bess was actually bits and pieces of someone else’s brilliance? What a conversational piece that would be. Whatever facts or fictions might be discovered in the future, the one truth remains, that Porgy and Bess, whether in its original state or a part of some futuristic branding remains one of the finest produced and performed productions of our times, and that my friends, is not up for discussion.
Center Theater Group is a non-profit organization that produces state of the art performances held at the Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center of Los Angeles and the Kirk Douglas Center in Culver City. Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is set to run at the Ahmanson from April 22-June 1, 2014. For more information, contact Center Theater Group at 601 West Temple Street, Los Angeles, California, 90012. 213-628-2772.