On February 28, 1943, George Gershwin’s PORGY AND BESS opened on Broadway with Anne Brown and Todd Duncan.
Actually, Gershwin’s first version of the opera, running four hours (counting the two intermissions), was performed privately in a concert version in Carnegie Hall, in the fall of 1935.
I’ve never seen a Broadway show (although there was a time I held season tickets to the Music Theater of Wichita). In 1943 I wasn’t born yet, so obviously I could not have seen Porgy and Bess on Broadway at that time, but I do like to listen to the songs from this show.
As I was learning to play the piano, as well as playing hymns, once in a while I played show tunes. This is one of my favorites, but I admit I like “The King & I” and “South Pacific” too. Oh, who am I kidding? I like all musicals – on Broadway or off. I even like some that are way WAY off-Broadway! Give me a good solid storyline with good solid characters, add a little drama and some snappy music, and I’m hooked!
Porgy and Bess is about the residents of the Charleston tenement known as Catfish Row. Nobody is rich by any stretch of the imagination, and everyone is struggling to survive. Porgy is disabled and uses a cart to get around. Bess has dealings with some shady characters, but eventually seeks shelter with Porgy. She knows a good guy when she meets him.
Of course, any great show on Broadway is going to be remade on the big screen – and this one definitely made it there – a few times. The most memorable movie starred Dorothy Dandridge, Sidney Poitier, Brock Peters and Sammy Davis, Jr.
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong made a recording of the songs from Porgy and Bess in 1957, but it was held and released along with the 1959 movie. It’s truly some of Gershwin’s best work, and with a duo like Fitzgerald and Armstrong, how could it have failed? No way would the album fail. I love that Gershwin used this subject matter and wrote it as an opera. It’s pure genius! I feel the same way about “West Side Story.” I’d describe either show as oxymoronic, theatrically speaking. I wish I had a mind like Gershwin – with enough irony and interest to capture the world long enough to watch a four-hour show. Wow! Sometimes I can’t get folks to read a ten-second poem I’ve written. Sigh.
Oh, the plot thickens toward the end… but just in case you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil the ending for you. You should rent the 1959 film for movie night this week. 🙂