Revised Porgy and Bess. What Next?

Categories: Theater

porgy-and-bess.jpg
The movie version

The Gershwin landmark opera Porgy and Bess is coming to Broadway in a revised version with the characters supposedly more fully rounded and relevant for modern audiences, and the crippled beggar Porgy walking with just a cane, not trapped in a moving cart.

Plus with a happier ending!

What next for Broadway?

Cats, but changed to be about lions? (A possible big comeback for Julie Taymor.)

A Fiddler in the Roof where they characters are less Jewish-y and aren't always dreaming of wealth?

Hairspray with stomach stapling?

A Titanic where they avert the iceberg and keep pouring the cocktails?

A Chorus Line where they all get the part?

A Urinetown where everyone just holds it in?



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77 comments
Mcammer
Mcammer

Birth Of  A Nation where slavery is abolished in the Constitution.

William Arndt
William Arndt

A revised Carousel:  It's all a dream!  Billy Bigelow didn't die, he just fell backwards and hit his head in the fight.

JohnnyFox
JohnnyFox

Isn't the base problem the fact that the Gershwins wrote terrific music and lyrics but sometimes shackled to clumsy and ill-constructed 'books'?  Otherwise we'd be having constant revivals of 'Song of the Flame', 'Our Nell' and 'Innocent Ingenue Baby' ... 

JonnyOneNote
JonnyOneNote

You know, I just remembered how long "Rhapsody in Blue" is..... you can really cut a lot out and still get the point across. So maybe the Gershwin Estate will allow a 59-second version? Just the good parts? Like the portions United Airlines used in 1986? Yeah, go for it!

Lyndon James
Lyndon James

A West Side Story where Tony and Maria escape to hold the real wedding in Vegas and settle down in Hollywood until they can land their own reality show.

Non
Non

Lolz

Julian
Julian

I just hope people are bold enough to picket the show. If we're lucky it will fold after a few days. Why don't they get their shit together and produce their own show?

Hyatn
Hyatn

There is a less Jewish "Fiddler on the Roof."  It is called "In the Heights."  What about "Nothing Happened on the Way to the Forum?"

Kitten
Kitten

This isn't about black and white and those of you who think it is are very short-sighted.  It's about a classic musical remaining a classic musical.  Everything does not have to be re-invented.  Some things should be left as is.  What is next?  Romeo & Juliet where Romeo marries Rosalind and Juliet marries Paris?  Or Carousel where Billy survives the stabbing?  Gypsy where Louise decides Mama's not so bad afterall?  If you want to re-tool the story of Porgy & Bess, write your own music and call it something else, like "Tales From Catfish Row".  (Watch, now someone is going to steal that title...)

Josh
Josh

Assassins, where all the presidents survive.

Laurence Glavin
Laurence Glavin

A "Ring Cycle" by Wagner in which Alberich signs up with eHarmony.com, meets a girl who will have him, and returns the Rhine Gold.  Over in 17 minutes instead of 17 hours.

DorothyP
DorothyP

If two white women decided to hack away at August Wilson, they'd be driven out of town by an angry mob.

Savannah Montgomery
Savannah Montgomery

A "No Show" Showboat... where the ghost of Lena Horne (singing "Stormy Weather") kills Miss Julie (Eva Gardner) with a bolt of lightening while she is singing "Only Make Believe". 

COTTON BLOSSOM!!!

tarantula
tarantula

My favorite comment here was the one suggesting that Patti LuPone needs a microphone.

Wilder
Wilder

An artistic director with an original idea, which doesn't include producing her husband's musical in her first season! Nice work if you can get it... 

BetteD
BetteD

Snap, Mr. Sondheim!  (But did you see the movie versions of A Little Night Music and Sweeny Todd?)

Musto
Musto

In today's Times, Sondheim attacks the new Porgy & Bess. The blog pieces includes a link to this very blog, saying I'd had fun with the situation.

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes....

Meredith Brody
Meredith Brody

At the time of the black "Guys and Dolls," my writing partner and I proposed a white "Porgy and Bess":  "Bess, you are my girlfriend now -- you are, you are."

Feral
Feral

Phantom of the Opera, where the company receives sensitivity training.

Jerry Vandesic
Jerry Vandesic

Exactly what I thought when that hack turned a classic opera into Rent.   What, the original wasn't good enough?  

AzFan
AzFan

Wasn't the last Fiddler pretty "non jewishy"?

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

The title's been changed, too.

It's now "On a Clear Day You Can See Will & Grace."

Ynnocence
Ynnocence

Boys in the Band with het guys who eventually come out as Tea Party sympathizers.

BetteD
BetteD

1776 where the congress is help captive by wacko extremists and they don't get the Declaration of Independence done (and the country remains a colony of England)

Professor Shorthair
Professor Shorthair

They already did a less Jewish Fiddler, with Alfred Molina. Barbara Barrie got fired as Yente for making the speech patterns make sense.

Joe Hammes
Joe Hammes

A "Company" where Bobby comes out of the closet.

Julia
Julia

I hate the original book  but never thought to picket it so those that claim to love it could not see it. Indeed, those that love the opera will still be able to see it in its original form. 

Shaespeare is reimagined frequently. Porgy is NOT sacred text. Speaking of sared text,  I do believe that there have been several revisions to the Bible in order to update the text for modern day readers.   This show may be a disaster but clearly the persons involved have a right to do this. Some of us will wait and see

Julia
Julia

Diane Paulus who is directing this  new production of Porgy  is white. 

Re August Wilson: he has written about a community that he is familiar with. George Gershwin or rather Debose Heyward has written in the broadest of stereotypes about a community that he has likely had little intimate contact with.  Before it was an opera Porgy was a book and then a play both written by Heyward. .  Heyward changed the ending of the play so that it differs from that in the book. A broadway musical can be different from an Opera. 

Joe
Joe

She needs diction lessons for sure. 

DaleFromChelsea
DaleFromChelsea

Like.  And thanks for the history lesson -- I'm Wikipeding those two right now.

Fradycat68
Fradycat68

youy really need to change Bess to Beth. that's  much whiter

Peter
Peter

I don't think that's a fair comparison. Jonathan Larson took a story that had been around for 100+ years and examined it through a new lens. In doing so, he created something artistically viable and exciting. (And I swear I'm not a Renthead. If I hear "Season of Love" on one more TV commercial, I'm going to punch a baby.) It's not that La Boheme wasn't good enough. If you're going to say that, you may as well say that Puccini shouldn't have messed with "Scènes de la vie de bohème" because it was good enough as a book.

Also, don't refer to a deceased man as a hack, especially one who died under such tragic circumstances. It's kind of gross.

MW
MW

The South Carolina slaveholders win.  That probably would be a happy ending for a lot of Republicans.

Vox
Vox

They already added a scene where Bobby admits he's had sex with a man.

DaleFromChelsea
DaleFromChelsea

... "several revisions to the Bible"?  Oh, honey, ever since that first book was translated from the original Hebrew it's been messed with!  In fact, if you read "Who Wrote The Bible?" or any biblical archaeologists/historians, you would know that there were actually FOUR authors of the Old Testament and an Editor, each of them with their own political slant.  Like the author who tries to beef up Aaron's role over Moses' so that his tribe gets more power...

Yup, it never ends, folks!

Timmee
Timmee

Actually, Jullia, Diane Paulus is biracial. Her mother's Asian.

DorothyP
DorothyP

Yes, a musical can differ from an opera, but this is so far different that it might as well be a new work. Why not just write their own songs, too? This isn't an adaptation as much as a rip-off.

Lyndon James
Lyndon James

But, unlike Rent with La Boheme or the Rice/John Aida versus Verdi, they haven't written or composed their own Broadway musical. We're not talking about the transposition of ideas from one medium or genre to another.  We're not even talking here about using one creator's work as inspiration and jumping off point for one's own new creation or homage.  The changes and attitudes expressed are significant enough to threaten the fundamental integrity/nature of the work as a whole which is then, in turn, being presented under the bankable marketing banner of the original creators.

Reinterpretation is essential.  But there are points beyond which reinterpretation without re-creation simply becomes misrepresentation.

Slipperywhendry
Slipperywhendry

Or Betsy or Bitsy. Porgy could be Polksy and just do without the street characters altogether. Instead it could take place in a country club. A very restrictive one too!

Paderic
Paderic

Peter's my hero now. Go, Peter!

Duncan
Duncan

That was actually added back in, after it was cut from the original production (for fear of offending the audience).  The scene's kind of pointless otherwise.

Porgy Conductor
Porgy Conductor

What hasn't been mentioned is that George Gershwin called his opera "Porgy and Bess" to differentiate it from the Heyward novel, "Porgy." He was asking permission to use the text at the same time that Dorothy was surprising DuBose with a play version with the same title,"Porgy."  Calling it "Porgy and Bess" was a way to let the audience know it was the same story in a different form, opera.  It wasn't an attempt to change or enhance the relationship of Bess to Porgy.

SarafinaBloom
SarafinaBloom

Yeah his letter to the Times will surely put a kibosh on any future attempts to re -interpret his work.

Julia
Julia

The show is titled Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and not DianePaulus’s Porgy and Bess because I) Gershwin wrote the music and I believe thescore is still in tact, and 2) the Gershwin estate which owns the rights, demandsit. Interestingly, Heyward’s name is not above the title though he wrote thebook that everyone seems so eager to embrace

 

I certainly agree with you that “reviving a musical’s bookto make it more comprehensible for a 2101 audience is acceptable”.  In the transposition of a work from onemedium or genre to another the ending is frequently altered.   Whetherthe ideas proposed here by Diane Paulus and Suzan-Lori Parks will undermine theintentions of the original story remains to be seen. I believe it opens nextweek.

 

I don’t think it is unreasonable to give Bess a back-storyas she is, after all one of the title characters.  I think for people like myself who arelooking forward to seeing this production in Broadway musical form; it is notunreasonable to give Bess a backstory. She is after all one of the titlecharacters. For those of you who prefer the opera, you can see the nextproduction at the Met. I’m sure the opera is not going away

 

Peter
Peter

What's sacred about it is that the Gershwins and Heyward wrote it. I think the reason Sondheim is getting so (rightfully) up in arms is that he's worried people will do the same thing to his work fifty years down the line. Deciding that they don't like the relationship between Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, for example, or that they'd rather have a more upbeat ending in Follies. You don't get to take another author's work and retool it completely to better suit your own tastes, especially if the work in question was written so recently (as in the last hundred years).

Also, Sondheim has always been the first to champion the work of his book writers (James Lapine, Hugh Wheeler, et al). Their work pushes and inspires him to write his songs and music, and vice versa. I think that's why he takes issue with billing the show as "The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess." They are not honoring the work of book writer and co-lyricist DuBose Heyward.

And to answer to another argument -- people rework Shakespeare all the time, but they do not rewrite him. You can reset Romeo and Juliet in another country, you can costume your characters however you want, you can play with different dynamics between characters, you can cut lines to reduce the play's running time -- but you do not have the option of rewriting the text. (Especially because you simply don't care for it.)

That said, revising a musical's book to make it more comprehensible for a 2011 audience is, I think, acceptable. (I think it did wonders for the 1999 revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and the 2000 revival of Kiss Me, Kate.) However, in this case, the ideas proposed by Diane Paulus and Suzan-Lori Parks threaten to undermine the intentions of the original story and opera. What audiences will see in Boston and on Broadway won't be the Gershwin-Heyward Porgy and Bess; it will be, as Sondheim coined it, "Diane Paulus's Porgy and Bess."

Julia
Julia

Great. So whats so sacred about Porgy & Bess again? 

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