90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Actor Norm Lewis, A ‘Porgy’ For The 21st Century

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” has just opened at The American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a new adaptation by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, composer Diedre Murray, and director Diane Paulus.

“Porgy and Bess,” which premiered in 1935, has been hailed as a landmark for its casting of classically-trained African American singers, and some of the songs, including “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” have become classics.

But during the Civil Rights years, the opera was criticized for its portrayal of African Americans and Harry Belefonte turned down the chance to play Porgy in the 1959 film version. Veteran Broadway singer and actor Norm Lewis who plays Porgy has been called “goosebump raising” in the role. He says that when he approached Porgy, he didn’t want to get into the racial aspect as much as to find the truth of the character.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000201212751 Ronald Hodges

    Love your piece on ‘Porgy’ For the 21st Century….I was shocked that the young woman did not take the ticket you offered. Porgy is and always be a masterpiece. It is a part of the American Song Book,
    no matter how hard we try to reinvent ourselves as some Afro Americans do….this only another patch of the multi colored quilt of who we are as a race….the black experience has many patches and facets that make us who we are..I have never heard any white person get upset about ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. When ‘Porgy’ comes to broadway..I will make sur all of the young people I know see this new production..

    • Vmjee

      I went to the show under protest and Loved it!  But I find your statement, “No matter how we try to reinvent ourselves as some Afro Americans do” troubling.  Does it mean,  I do NOT as an African American … get to NOT embrace the original Porgy and Bess less  I be accused of trying to reinvent real life on Catfish Row or of trying to reinvent myself?…It is quite possible that  original Porgy and Bess is the invention here? I love the work of the Gershwins, but I have yet to read that either of the Gershwins ever spent time hanging in the black community in any version of Catfish Row…so one is left to believe it sprung from their fertile imaginations….So while this was written about black people was it written for a white audience given the time it made it to a public audience…Were blacks and whites sitting side by side in the audience? The statement  about white person complaining about A  Streetcar Named Desire… is countered by my question, when’s the last time Congress had to pass a civil rights law for whites?
      I get to NOT like the original, and I get to absolutely love this re-invention. And we both get to have our opinions…Audra, Norm and the actor (sorry I forgotten his name) were superb as were the other actors …

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

July 24 6 Comments

Veterans Say Suicide Is Their Top Concern

That's according to a survey released today by the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

July 24 5 Comments

Modern-Day Amelia Earhart Circumnavigates The Globe

The famous pilot's namesake has became the youngest woman to fly a single-engine aircraft around the world.

July 23 Comment

DJ Sessions: Latin Alternative From Los Angeles To Venezuela

KCRW's Raul Campos introduces us to some groups he came across while hosting the 15th annual Latin Alternative Music Conference.

July 23 6 Comments

ISIS Forces Christians To Flee Iraq City Of Mosul

The militant group's threat -- convert, leave or die -- has forced most Christians in Mosul to leave.