- The Skylight Music Theatre’s production of The Gershwins’
“Porgy & Bess” is a scaled-down rendition of the
original version to accommodate the intimate space of its
theater. A smaller
cast of 16 and orchestra and conductor of nine do the honors
and deliver a very well-executed production of this beautiful
in 1935 amidst some controversy with its large all-black cast,
something unheard of in that time. It eventually came to be
recognized as a great American opera with revivals in 1952,
1976, 1983 and 2012. It was made into a film with Sidney
Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge in 1959, which exposed many
millions of Americans to the story set in the remote cultural
enclave of the Gullah islanders who live just off the coast of
It is a
story of poverty, addiction, romance and violence, with the
major love story between Porgy, a physically compromised
street beggar, and Bess, a former prostitute and coke addict.
Two other men, Crown and Sporting Life, are vying for Bess’s
affection, but she realizes that Porgy has something more
valuable and lasting to offer. But Bess is a complex figure
with a lot of ambiguity, so don’t expect a simple glorious
problem I experienced with the production - the same one I
have with all operas sung in English - is that I could not
hear all of the words, and I’m a stickler for lyrics. If
someone bothered to write them, they deserve to be understood.
It’s the same gripe I have with much rock ‘n’ roll
music. Of course, the songs that have enjoyed great popularity
outside the opera - “Summertime,” “It Ain’t
Necessarily So,” “I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing,” “A
Woman Is a Sometime Thing,” and “Bess, You Is My Woman
Now” - were easily understood because I already knew the
songs, but some of the others I could get the gist of, and I
missed many of the lyrics.
hear the unique melodic strains of Gershwin throughout the
piece - the rhythms, the dissonance, the jazzy-bluesy chords.
director Richard Carsey reconstructed the score to fit his
instrumental composition. It was lovely.
strongest appeal in this production is the collection of
vocalists that stage director Bill Theisen has gathered. Jason
McKinney as Porgy has a strong presence with a bass-baritone
voice to match. His paramour Bess, played by Kearstin Piper
Brown on Sunday (this role is double cast with Rhea Olivacce)
also has a lusty, soaring voice.
singer who stole the show was Adrienne Dandrich in her role as
Serena, the Bible-thumping evangelist who mourned her murdered
husband beautifully in “My Man’s Gone Now” and spent the
ensuing years condemning sinners and being God’s
McGlaun as Sporting Life is a wonderful con, using people for
his own ends. His doubting “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is
a hit, and Maria’s (Sherri Williams Pannell) condemnation of
him, “I Hates Your Struttin’ Style,” offers some humor
in a pretty dark story. Nathaniel Stampley as the controlling
“bad guy,” Crown, is very effective. We loved hating him.
work was very skillfully rendered by Cecelia Davis (Clara)
Erica Cochran (Lily), Bill McMurray (Jake), Sean Miller
(Mingo), Shawn Holmes (Robbins), Cameo Humes (Peter), Cynthia
Cobb (Annie) and Jonathan Christopher (Jim). T. Stacy Hicks
played a cameo role as the detective. The harmonies were
mesmerizing when the whole ensemble joined together.
designer Ken Goldstein deserves mention, as well. As
Theisen’s last hurrah, after nine years of
significant contributions to the Skylight Music Theatre, this
production is a fitting swan song. We wish him well and shall
sorely miss him.
& Bess” runs through June 9 at the Broadway Theatre
Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, with many performances per
week. Call 414-291-7800 for show times and tickets or visit