Director Diane Paulus on reimagining ‘Porgy and Bess’

Apr 23, 2014

Alicia Hall Moran as Bess and Nathaniel Stampley as Porgy on stage at the Ahmanson Theatre. ; Credit: Courtesy Ahmanson Theatre

Many people know “Porgy and Bess” as the grand George Gershwin opera which debuted on Broadway in 1935, but director Diane Paulus has since re-invented the popular tale of Southern black life as musical theatre with “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” now playing at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre.

In the Paulus rendition—commissioned by the Gershwin estate in 2011—the storyline includes more dancing and spoken word than the original. It’s the story of Porgy, a physically disabled man living in the fictitious Catfish Row in the Charleston, South Carolina slums—and Bess, the beautiful, drug-addicted woman he falls in love with. Some of the songs that originate from the Gershwin opera include Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “I Got Plenty of Nothing.”

Gershwin’s original opera—based on Dubose Heyward’s 1925 novel “Porgy” and starring an all-black cast—received mixed reviews initially, and was subject to controversy—but has since gained a following. In 1959, Otto Preminger revived the story with a film starring Sidney Poitier.

For Paulus’ production, the Tony Award-winning director required her cast to be familiar with the long and complicated history of the story. Her “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” cast includes Nathaniel Stampley as Porgy and Alicia Hall Moran as Bess.

The musical debuted at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on Wednesday, April 23. Performances continue through June 1, 2014.


Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T) at Harvard University; directs “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” now playing at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre; Tony winner for “Pippin” last year

Alicia Hall Moran, Performer playing the role of Bess in The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

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