“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” has been nominated for ten Tony Awards, including one for Norm Lewis as Best Actor in a Musical. The production is now on Broadway, but originated at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. last summer. It’s 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.
But during the Civil Rights era, the opera was criticized for its stereotypical portrayal of African Americans. In fact, Harry Belefonte turned down the chance to play Porgy in the 1959 film version.
But Norm Lewis says that when he approached Porgy, he didn’t want to get into the racial aspect. Instead, he focused on finding the truth of the character.
And he told Here & Now’s Robin Young that the role itself can be intimidating.
“It’s almost like being the President of the United States,” he said. “I am in that line of these very famous Porgys and this iconic story.”
This interview originally aired on September 7, 2011.
- YouTube: “Porgy and Bess” on Broadway
- Norm Lewis, Tony-nominated actor