Emerson celebrates Porgy and Bess

Allison Teixeira

October 05, 2011

Emerson welcomed the cast of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess to the Colonial Theatre Friday to celebrate the 76th anniversary of the original play’s debut at the theater on September 30, 1935. The day was declared The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess Day by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

Director Diane Paulus (who is also artistic director of the American Repertory Theater) and cast members Audra MacDonald (Bess), Norm Lewis (Porgy), and David Alan Grier (Sporting Life) were all in attendance, along with the rest of the cast. Paulus and several cast members spent time speaking with Emerson senior musical theater students about their careers and offering them advice. Following the discussion, they joined President Lee Pelton and other officials for a press conference at which a city proclamation was read.

Lee Pelton with Porgy and Bess cast
President Pelton joined the cast of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess when they visited Emerson on Friday. From left are Pelton, Norm Lewis, Audra MacDonald, Phillip Boykin, Director Diane Paulus, and David Alan Grier.

“The Boston community has given us the warmest welcome,” said Paulus. “With our production, we hope to honor the past and give new audiences an opportunity to fall in love with this American classic. And we stand on the shoulders of those groundbreaking artists that embarked on this journey 76 years ago today."

Porgy and Bess is a classic American tale set in the 1930s in Catfish Row, a neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina. It is the heartbreaking love story of Bess, beautiful and troubled, who turns to Porgy, a crippled beggar, in search of safety after her possessive lover Crown commits murder. As Porgy and Bess’s love grows, their future is threatened by Crown and the conniving Sporting Life.

Porgy and Bess opened at the Colonial at a time when it was common for producers to try out their work in Boston before bringing it to Broadway. The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess adapts the original opera into the form of a musical. The show features new dialogue written by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, and new additional music by Diedre L. Murray. The new adaptation of Porgy and Bess premiered at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge and is now headed to Broadway.