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Porgy and Bess: newly conceived version of 'folk opera' tests the waters

Updated, musical-theater-style 'Porgy and Bess' offers a more 'intimate' narrative but has raised controversy.

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The warbling melody of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” packs a potent wallop here this season as "The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess" unfolds nightly through Oct. 2 at the American Repertory Theater (ART) in Cambridge, Mass.

A newly conceived version of the “folk opera,” as Gershwin called it, is undergoing revisions on its way to a Broadway opening, scheduled for December. Director Diane Paulus, who won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Revival for "Hair," has transformed the nearly four-hour-long opera into a more condensed work for the musical theater, with the blessings of the composer’s and authors’ estates.

The George and Ira Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward "Porgy and Bess" premièred on Broadway in 1935. (After the try-out at Boston’s Colonial Theater, George Gershwin famously cut 45 minutes from his score, which are often restored in later revivals.)

According to Ms. Paulus, “Most people have seen it since in an opera house. There’s an epic experience that comes along with that. Creating a version for musical theater says to me we’re going to make an experience that is more intimate, more focused on character development and the narrative. We’re allowing ourselves some air, certain moments where dialogue happens, without any music.”


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