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The Gershwins’ Porgy And Bess

Published 29 July 2014

What’s it all about?

The Gershwins’ great folk opera reframed as a musical. No, this doesn’t mean jazz hands and high kicks. It means there’s just as much tragedy and drama as ever in the tale of a woman addicted to drugs, alcohol and the wrong type of man, and the strong-willed, weak-legged man who would help her, but the production is no longer sung through, the score has been re-arranged and, at the Open Air Theatre care of Liam Steel, there are some striking dance routines.

Who’s in it?

A trio of leading men from the US. The excellent Phillip Boykin is a powerful, bull-like, oppressive presence as the barrel-chested, bicep-bulging Crown; Rufus Bonds Jr delivers an iron-willed Porgy who melts with uncompromising joy in the love of Bess; and Cedric Neal commands the stage as drug dealer Sporting Life, who is somehow a credible cross between The Mask and The Jungle Book’s Kaa, but with ‘Happy Dust’ instead of hypnotic eyes.

Nicola Hughes is a remarkable Bess; a dangerous, whirling, uncontrollable ball of unstable, animal energy under the influence of drugs and Crown, but warm, loving and repentant under Porgy’s care.

What should I look out for?

Katrina Lindsay’s eye-catching set, which resembles a cave wall of beaten bronze.

Inventively theatrical use of the tables and chairs that will make your everyday, functional use of furniture feel terribly pedestrian and unimaginative.

The moment when, if you’re lucky, nature and theatre combine to spine-chilling effect. As talk turns to an impending hurricane, the wind rushed through the Regent’s Park trees ominously.

What will I be humming?

The Gershwin standards, of course. Like it or not, you’re going to come away with Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So stuck in your head for days.

Who was in the press night crowd?

Alumni from last year’s Open Air Theatre musical The Sound Of Music, Charlotte Wakefield and Stuart Matthew Price were back to support this year’s contingent, as was former Open Air Theatre Artistic Director Ian Talbot.

In a nutshell?

The Gershwins’ tragic classic feels fresh and dynamic in the hands of surely one of London’s most spectacular casts.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@artifartblast Best #PorgyAndBess I’ve ever seen @OpenAirTheatre. Superb singing & band. Tim Sheader’s programming hits its logical, wonderful heights.

@davidmcalmont Thunderous applause to @OpenAirTheatre for their fascinating, moving, transcendent production of #porgyandbess Incredible and then some! Go!

Will I like it?

Director Timothy Sheader has a history of creating award-winning musicals at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. While this is far from a grin-bringing crowd pleaser, its exceptional cast and powerful drama make it a must see. And what better way to start a summer evening than with Summertime performed as a warm breeze whispers through the trees.

Porgy And Bess runs at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 23 August. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.

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