Reporting back from the ART production of Porgy and Bess, I can’t decide if the moral of the story is a) don’t mess with the classics b) stick to your guns or c) don’t tell people what you’re “planning” to do.
Although director Diane Paulus and playwright Suzan-Lori Parks had announced that they were changing the ending (you can see a detailed outline of their plans here, at least until the Boston Globe paywall goes up), the closing scene of Porgy and Bess walking off together, singing, apparently did not go over well with the preview audiences and was dropped. Instead, Porgy returns from jail to find Bess gone and himself shunned by his neighbors for continuing to love her. So now he has two reasons to leave. It was underwhelming and vague, but the entire show seemed like that to me. Played on a bare stage, it really needed scenery, not so much for its own sake but because it was hard to tell who was supposed to be where when. (And in the traditional production, much great drama is wrought in the first act when everybody on Catfish Row slams their doors on a terrified Bess, who then sees one small one open: Porgy’s.) The New York Times raved about Audra MacDonald, but I found her lost in the busy movement and orchestration until “I Loves You, Porgy,” which was really magical. Porgy seemed to wish he was back in Les Miz.
I’m surprised the production backed away so quickly from its stated–hell, trumpeted–intentions. It firms up my resolve not to discuss what the Horn Book is “planning” to say about a book until we’ve actually said it.