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'Porgy and Bess' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

January 13, 2012 | 12:00 pm

Porgy

Few Broadway shows this season have experienced more controversy and critical hand-wringing before opening night than "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess," a new version of the classic opera that debuted last year at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., and that bowed this week at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York.

This revised production features cuts and revisions by Suzan Lori-Parks and Diedre L. Murray.  Last year, composer Stephen Sondheim wrote a harsh letter that was published in the New York Times in which he attacked the show, sight unseen.

"Porgy," directed by Diane Paulus, stars Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis as the title characters. The show has undergone further streamlining since its A.R.T. debut last year.

How have critics reacted? The responses have so far been all over the map.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times reviewed the production during its debut in Massachusetts and has revisited it in New York. Overall, "the show is much improved, clearer and more fluid, than it was in Cambridge." At times, this slimmed-down opera "sometimes feels skeletal." As Bess, McDonald is "great; the show in which she appears is, at best, just pretty good."

The Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones wrote that the much talked-about changes and cuts to the opera have been "overhyped and overdiscussed." In the end, the "limitations of the production flow from the same fundamental issues that have applied since this piece was first seen in 1935."

Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal described the production as "a sanitized, heavily cut rewrite that strips away the show's essence so as to render it suitable for consumption by 21st-century prigs. If you've never seen or heard 'Porgy,' you might well find this version blandly pleasing. Otherwise, you'll be appalled."

The Associated Press' Mark Kennedy described the production as "gorgeous" and said the controversy surrounding the cuts is "plenty of nothing." Purists who are upset to hear about the changes "should leave the theater immediately. The rest of us can then sit back and enjoy a first-rate cast [giving] life to one of America's greatest love triangles."

RELATED:

Audra McDonald discusses the perceived racism of 'Porgy and Bess'

Stephen Sondheim and the case of 'Porgy and Bess'

'The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess': What did the critics think?

-- David Ng

Photo: Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis in "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York. Credit: Michael J. Lutch / Associated Press

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