Arts and Culture

Shani Gilchrist



“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” set to thrill in Greenville

Posted 1/5/2014 4:35:00 PM

I’ve never been to a show in New York. It’s crazy, because I travel up there at least two or three times a year for various work events, but the thought of staying and actually experiencing something that is quintessentially ‘New York’ doesn’t usually occur to me. Add on to this the fact that musicals aren’t typically my cup of tea, and — well, there you have it … no musicals for me.

However, there is one show that I would see in a hot minute. But the story has been improperly categorized for years. George and Ira Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” is a staple of the Broadway cadre, but here’s the thing — it’s actually an opera. It’s actually the first truly great opera that America can claim as its own, and the highly regarded latest adaptation of it, “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess," will be at the Peace Center in Greenville from Jan. 28 through Feb. 2.

“Porgy and Bess” made it’s debut — as an opera — on Broadway on Oct. 10, 1935, after taking a long, arduous journey that began when George Gershwin wrote a letter to African-American writer DuBose Heyward, who had written a novel titled “Porgy.” Gershwin wanted to partner with Heyward on an operatic adaptation of the book, and Heyward eagerly agreed. Once everything was said and done over the next several years, the Gershwin-Heyward collaboration debuted as a revolutionary production for the era, as it featured and all African-American cast of classically trained opera singers. The score gave us songs that are musical threads in America’s arts fabric such as “Summertime,” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

Unfortunately, “Porgy and Bess” was poorly received, and it wasn’t until after the deaths of Gershwin and DuBose that their collaboration would become recognized as one of the most important musical works in America’s history. It was revived by the Houston Grand Opera in 1976, and has held its ground as an American classic ever since.

This is a ‘must-see’ for your to do list while traveling in the Upstate. The 2012 Tony Award-winning production features a touring cast of some of the best young operatic talent in the country. It will be a very special treat to experience this story, set in Charleston’s Catfish Row, where a beautiful woman is trying to move on from her scandalous and troubled past. Porgy is the only person with the ability to rescue Bess from her former life, and the audience gets to experience the building of an epic love story as the two navigate the dark shadows that try to hold onto Bess’s life.

The musical was revived by one of Broadway’s most respected creative teams, including Tony-winning director Diane Paulus, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and Obie-Award-winning Diedre L. Murray. Putting together their wealth of talent and experience, this team created a revival that the New Yorker called “A great achievement,” and that Time magazine caked “The number one Broadway musical of the year.” (This is quite a feat, considering that revivals don’t have the best track records in modern theater circles.)

Tickets range from $45 - $75, and will surely sell quickly. For more information and for tickets, please click here.

Insider tip, from one parent to another: I know that a lot of you place a high value on exposing your kids to great arts performances (as you should!), but please be careful when considering taking young ones to see this performance. The plot deals with heavy material, including drug use, prostitution and death (including violent deaths onstage). I would not suggest taking kids under age 13 to see this production.