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So much for good intentions

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.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. I’m gonna go with c). I’ve been following the kerfuffle about the altered ending with interest. I had tickets to the first preview performance and was baffled by what I saw, since the new ending had already been changed again and Porgy was on his way – solo. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the production overall.

  2. Really hope this gets recorded. I’m enjoying the brouhaha on the message boards (was getting tired of the endless Spider Man drama) and probably won’t see this production, but I’m an Audra McDonald fan, ever since I heard her recording of “How Glory Goes” several years ago.

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    That’s interesting, Francesca, if the “new” ending was out even before the first preview–I wonder why they changed it?

    I’m an Audra fan too, Jennifer, but don’t think she was particularly well-served by this production. Her Porgy (Norm Lewis) did not seem comfortable, and much of the tessitura in general was evened out– “Summertime” was dropped into mezzo territory’ and “Woman is a Sometime Thing” was pushed up from bass. I was reminded that while Audra played an opera singer in Master Class, she really isn’t one–her voice is pretty thin for Bess, who in the opera is sung by a big-voiced soprano.

  4. Oh, that’s too bad. Did they still have an actual baby during “Summertime” when you saw it? They were using twins from one of the actors in the show at one point. I didn’t think that was going to last very long.

    (if you get a chance to make it to New York, try not to miss Follies. I saw it at the Kennedy Center, and I’m still enthralled. They’re planning a full recording-2 CDs-this fall.)

  5. Jennifer, yes they used the twins when I saw it. You could hear the “awww, how amazing/cute” twittering as everyone realized this beautiful child was actually looking out into the audience.

    Roger, all I can say about the ending issue is “curiouser and curiouser.”

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