Caught in the Act

Broadway Finally Ready for "Porgy and Bess"

By Jared Bowen   |   Monday, June 11, 2012
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June 11, 2012

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Audra McDonald accepts the award for best performance by an actress in a musical for her role in "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess," at the 66th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday June 10, 2012, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes /Invision/AP)

BOSTON — On a very cold night in February of 2011, I had dinner with the  American Repertory Theater’s artistic director, Diane Paulus. She wanted to discuss her next project—one for which the Gershwin estate had hand-selected her. For two hours in a restaurant overlooking the Boston waterfront, she explained to me her thoughts, passion and emotion for “Porgy and Bess”. It wasn’t a mere pitch. It was an artist at work on her canvas as her love for the project poured out.
 
She was already steeped in the history of the opera’s creation, of its cultural resonance and she could see how to make it a defining piece for this generation. I left that dinner knowing the musical would match her ambition, that it would go to Broadway and I was pretty certain it would have a big impact. I didn’t go as far as to predict a Tony award, but I could see success for her, wrought by the purity of her creative spirit.
 
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"Porgy and Bess" Director Diane Paulus on Greater Boston

Stoic and calm, at least whenever I saw her over the next ten months, Paulus adhered to her vision. When the musical opened at the A.R.T. in August, she deftly fended off Stephen Sondheim’s thunderous criticism of her plans to adapt the work with Musical Book Adapter Suzan-Lori Parks and Score Adapter Diedre L. Murray. Together they crafted a “Porgy” for our times. Last night, “The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” won the Tony for best musical revival, 76 years after the original received its try-out in Boston’s Colonial Theatre

"When we won the best revival, I could barely contain myself," Paulus told me. "It was so emotional and so overwhelming and we went backstage and Mandy Patinkin [one of Paulus’ musical theater heroes] was so effusive about the production and he was congratulating us!”
 
The cast Paulus brought together for her production is sublime—Norm Lewis (Porgy) should have won a Tony last night. David Alan Grier (Sporting Life) and Phillip Boykin (Crown) were monumentally inspired in their portrayals and Audra McDonald simply seared. I did predict her Tony nomination and win, but a second win took Paulus by surprise. Hearing that McDonald was up for best performance by an actress in a musical, Paulus had to double-back to her seat.  “We were running in our heels down Amsterdam back to the Beacon because I wanted to be back for that award," Paulus said.  Sadly, Paulus did not win as best director, but she will undoubtedly have numerous other chances over what promises to be a long and engaging career.
 
Ironically, Paulus’ adaptation has fared better than Gershwin’s original 1935 production “Porgy and Bess”, which was derided by the majority of New York critics and experienced only a limited run. By extension, we are winners too. Between the A.R.T. and the Huntington Theatre Company, several Boston-born productions made it to Broadway this past theater season, proof that our theater community is a vibrant and fulfilling place to reside.

Read and watch Bowen's coverage of "Porgy and Bess" with the links below:

>> A.R.T. Reimagines "Porgy and Bess"
>> Porgy and Bess Controversy at the A.R.T.
>> David Alan Grier on Reinterpreting the Gershwin Play 

Catch even more WGBH coverage of this performance:

>>The Callie Crossley show: "Reimagining 'Porgy and Bess'"
>>Author Kim McLarin's review, "Porgy and Bess" at A.R.T.: Transformed and Illuminating"

Wheelock Family Theatre Salutes Sue Kosoff

By Jared Bowen   |   Monday, June 11, 2012
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Carnival at the Wheelock Family Theatre, with Kevin Fennesy and Steve Aveson

BOSTON — Parting, especially in the uber emotional and dramatic confines of the theater, truly is “such sweet sorrow.” So the staff and vast alumnae of Boston’s Wheelock Family Theatre will attest to tonight as they bid farewell and happy retirement to founder and producer Susan Kosoff. 

For 32 years, Kosoff has guided Wheelock and its extensive repertoire of professional productions. It’s a legacy that will be honored at a gala benefit: “A Salute to the Wonderful Wizard of Wheelock Family Theatre.” Funds raised will go toward the theater’s educational programs, outreach and providing free and subsidized tickets to young patrons.
 
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Once Upon a Mattress at the Wheelock Family Theatre, with Bobbie Stenbach, Larry Coen, Monica Tosches and Byron Darden

With Sue and her fellow co-founders at the helm, Wheelock not only flourished, it served as the pioneer for programs, issues and access we take for granted today. The theater was among the first in the country to employ colorblind casting—bringing to its stage an African American Superman, an Asian Cinderella and a Latina Peter Pan. It staged classics like “The Sound of Music” and “Charlotte’s Web” alongside shows dealing with divorce, racism and homophobia. The Wheelock was also among the first theaters in the country to audio-describe productions for blind patrons and to employ open caption for the hearing impaired.
 
A host of fame-fated kids have starred in Wheelock productions, including a young Matt Damon, Joey McIntyre, Julia Jones of the “Twilight” films and Katherine Doherty, who went straight from the Wheelock stage to the literal embrace of Catherine Zeta-Jones in “A Little Night Music” on Broadway.
 
Sue is responsible for much of what the Wheelock has achieved. A teacher, friend and absolute sweetheart, she inspired thousands during her long and impressive career. It’s no surprise that Wheelock Family Theatre is having trouble letting go. Parting, more than sorrow, sometimes just hurts.

Review: George Gershwin Alone at ArtsEmerson

By Jared Bowen   |   Friday, June 8, 2012
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June 8, 2012
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Hershey Felder as George Gershwin (Photo: Ashmont Media)

BOSTON — With Hershey Felder already at ArtsEmerson last month to present his new work Maestro: Leonard Bernstein, Executive Director Rob Orchard prevailed upon the renowned performer to revisit his one-man show, George Gershwin Alone. If you missed its run on Broadway in 2001 and later engagements at the American Repertory Theater, avail yourself of the rare opportunity now.  The show and Felder are masterful.
 
A concert artist, composer and actor, Felder has researched Gershwin with the vigor of a Harvard thesis student. He spent five years poring over original manuscripts, reading through personal correspondence and listening to audio recordings. He’s interviewed family members and biographers. The result is an insightful and fully engaging look at one of this country’s most revered composers.
 
George Gershwin Alone feels a bit like a hot air balloon ride. Felder guides us gently and swiftly through the Gershwin biography. Absent of hammy theatrics and melodrama, it’s an elegant passage moving from Gershwin’s childhood in New York to his days as a “piano pimp”, where he caught Al Jolson’s attention to the writing of Porgy and Bess and a life in Hollywood. Felder punctuates the biography with fascinating revelations about how Gershwin composed: that he changed the key midway through “Swanee” just to keep the listener in his grasp, how he crafted a deliberate counterpoint musical architecture in “Summertime” and how he replicated Parisian taxi horns in composing “An American in Paris.”  For much of it, Felder sits at a Steinway grand piano playing, singing and interjecting while a mirror hangs above for an even more intimate perspective of Felder at play.
 
Gershwin did not have an entirely easy life. His early success with “Rhapsody in Blue” and in Jolson’s spotlight was never fully matched. Porgy divided critics, studio head Samuel Goldwyn found his songs unremarkable and even Gershwin’s own mother wondered why her son couldn’t be more like Irving Berlin. He died of a brain tumor at age 38 without the widespread acclaim he has today. And that is where Felder intervenes in a show post-script. To a packed house on Wednesday evening he took requests and played a number of Gershwin faves as an eager audience sung along. It was a warm, poignant tribute.

Review: Private Lives at the Huntington

By Jared Bowen   |   Monday, June 4, 2012
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June 4, 2012
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Bianca Amato and James Waterston in Noël Coward’s Private Lives.(Photo: Paul Marotta)

BOSTON — When it comes to relationships, there is the veneer and then there’s the truth about how horribly we comport ourselves behind closed doors. It’s what Noël Coward mined brilliantly in his 1930 comedy, Private Lives, now receiving equally brilliant staging by the Huntington Theatre Company through June 24th.  Of course in true Coward fashion, he gives us the awful truth.

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Renoir's Paintings Dance Together Again

By Jared Bowen   |   Sunday, June 3, 2012
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June 3, 2012
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Dance at Bougival, 1883(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) Dance in the Country and Dance in the City (Paris, Muse´e d’Orsay, Photographs © Re´union des Muse´es Nationaux / Art Resource, NY) Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841–1919)

BOSTON — For the second year in a row, the Museum of Fine Arts is presenting a Visiting Masterpieces program. On view right now is a set of works by the Impressionist painter Renoir that you cannot miss.
 
In 1883 Pierre-Auguste Renoir had high expectations for himself. Six foot tall expectations, as he painted a series of three life-sized portraits: “Dance at Bougival”, “Dance in the Country” and “Dance in the City”.  Now for the first time in a generation, the three paintings are reunited at the Museum of Fine Arts.

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Gary Webb: Mr. Jeans

By Jared Bowen   |   Thursday, May 31, 2012
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June 1, 2012



BOSTON — British sculptor Gary Webb is a fast-rising star. Already a big deal in Europe, he’s now making his US museum debut right here at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in a show titled, Gary Webb: Mr. Jeans.
 
Gary Webb’s work is color: shiny and shimmering. It’s curious. It’s pedestals, pipes and it’s perplexing. The exhibit is also the British sculptor’s US museum debut. Nick Capasso, the deCordova’s deputy director, marvels at Webb’s technique.
 
“It is just pure, unbridled creativity that he makes manifest in the world, and he goes for it 100 percent. Everything is beautifully crafted, everything is perfect. But it’s all a little nuts,” Capasso exclaimed.

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About the Author
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 

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