Paul Mercs Concerts
and Living Arts Productions
1 November 2002
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Theatre
and Bess is a Depression era folk opera that twists pride, prejudice,
pathos, and passion into a tragic story entwining the people of Catfish
Row in Charleston.
DuBose Heyward's novel is set in the early 1930s. It tells of a cripple,
Porgy, who witnesses a murder during a crap game, then takes in the murderer
Crown's fiery girlfriend Bess. Later, Crown returns to reclaim Bess. She
and Porgy have been caring for an orphaned baby boy. To keep his family
intact, Porgy murders Crown and is taken to jail.
Porgy returns from jail with gifts, from winnings, thanks to loaded dice
he's hidden in his mouth. He brings a beautiful red dress for Bess who has
left and fled to New York with the sinister drug pusher, Sportin' Life to
chase "happy dust" to which she's addicted.
The musical score by George and Ira Gershwin contains songs like the opening
number "Summertime" sung hauntingly by the tragic young mother, Clara (Malaika
Sims) from the top floor of the tenement building.
"I Got Plenty of Nuttin" is sung lustily by Porgy (Brian R. Gibson). Although
on his knees throughout most of the performance, Mr Gibson's voice remains
powerful and his exuberance and optimism never falters.
Always lurking in the shadows waiting to disrupt the status quo, lanky Sportin'
Life (Duane A. Moody) sings "It Ain't Necessarily So". Mr Moody has a strong
tenor voice and a body that makes his devious motives clear.
Elizabeth Graham is both Director and plays the character of Bess. As Director,
she uses all areas of the stage effectively. Ms Graham also varies the pace
of the action within each scene. One important piece of business cannot
be seen by patrons sitting stage left. From under Porgy's curtained doorway,
Bess's hand steals out to retrieve a tiny packet of "happy dust". Did half
the audience see this action?
Despite playing the role of Bess many times, Ms Graham lost the purity of
one or two notes at the beginning of the show. Before the intermission,
she had regained her voice. It isn't just the tight, red dress she wears
that draw all eyes to her. Ms Graham has stage presence and her body language
speaks volumes. In her duets with Mr Gibson, her high, clear voice blends
beautifully with his rich, chocolaty baritone.
With a great cast of different shapes and sizes, interesting (if a little
too fussy) scenery, imaginative lighting, and a great score, why was the
auditorium one third empty? Why did I leave feeling slightly dissatisfied?
It wasn't just that I (and two other reviewers) had to reassure the box
office we were expected. Perhaps the orchestra wasn't upbeat enough? Or
is it that the Living Arts Production of Porgy and Bess could do
with a breather after touring for the past ten years?
2002, June Heywood