WASHINGTON — One of 2012’s Tony Award-winning Broadway musicals, which also had a unique role in American theater history in Washington, opened this week at the National Theatre.
“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” won the Tony Award in 2012 for best musical revival and is now on a 14-state tour. It opened Christmas Day in Washington and runs through today. The original four-hour opera was condensed into a two-and-a-half-hour musical for the revival.
The original “Porgy and Bess” played a role in desegregating the National Theatre’s audience in 1936, at least for a time. Todd Duncan, who played the original Porgy, and Anne Brown, the original Bess, led the entirely black cast to strike and force the inclusion of African-Americans in the audience.
Michael Strunsky, Ira Gershwin’s nephew and trustee of his estate, said the musical version was conceived to bring the story to a broader audience beyond opera.
“This is a fabulous story, and it’s punctuated by George Gershwin’s just unbelievably creative music,” Strunsky said in a recent interview. “It’s a piece that has been under-appreciated, I think, even right from the genesis in 1935.”
“Porgy and Bess” is a love story, looking at life in Charleston’s Catfish Row in the early 1920s. Backed by a 23-piece orchestra, the touring musical includes such classic songs as “Summertime,” ”I Got Plenty o’ Nothin’” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
Diane Paulus, artistic director of the American Repertory Theater, adapted the original opera for the Broadway revival with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and Obie Award-winning composer Diedre Murray.
Strunsky said their changes helped the show as a theatrical piece to capture the audience.
The production is part of this year’s revived Broadway season at the National Theatre.