Court Theatre Artistic Director Charles Newell and Executive Director Stephen J. Albert present the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, directed by Artistic Director Charles Newell, with Artistic Consultant Ron OJ Parson and Music Direction by Doug Peck. Porgy and Bess will run May 12-June 19, 2011 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue. Press Opening is Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 8PM.
"When I went back to read the original source material for Porgy and Bess-the 1925 novel by DuBose Heyward and the subsequent stage play-I discovered that I had underestimated the complex storytelling of Porgy and Bess, which is often overshadowed by George Gershwin's fabulous music," says Newell. "When I went even further back to learn about the Gullah community of South Carolina, I discovered that this piece has an emotional heart, a spirituality even, that I never thought possible. In Court's production-guided by Doug, Ron, and the cast-we are looking to avoid the kind of mistakes people often make with Gershwin's opera, while rediscovering a kind of spirituality to Porgy and Bess that will surprise audience members who thought they knew this piece."
Porgy and Bess remains George Gershwin's magnum opus, with an unforgettable score that includes songs ("Summertime," "It Ain't Necessarily So") later recorded by popular musicians from Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald. Coming off their 2008 Jeff Award-winning production of Caroline, or Change, Charles Newell and Doug Peck come face-to-face with one of the greatest-and most controversial-pieces of American musical theater ever created. Often denounced as a racially insensitive portrayal of black southerners, Newell and Peck, in collaboration with Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson, will present a thoughtful, never-before-seen retelling of the Gershwins' and Heywards' "folk opera" Porgy and Bess, a classic but contested piece of American theater history.
"I'm an opera person and a music theater person living in the same body, so for me Porgy and Bess at Court Theatre is a dream project. Other people are more concerned with the question of, ‘What is musical? What is opera?' than I am. I look to Stephen Sondheim who says an opera is in an opera house and a musical is in a music theater house. So, by definition, we are doing a theater piece because we are performing in a theater," said Peck during the first rehearsal for Porgy and Bess. "That doesn't mean that at moments we won't sing operatically. That doesn't mean that at moments we won't sing in a jazz way, or a folk way, or a music theater belty way, or even a completely untrained way. What's so great about this piece is that there are so many musical worlds in it."
Porgy and Bess features an all-Chicago cast, including Alexis Rogers (The Piano Lesson) as Bess and Todd M. Kryger (Disney's The Lion King, Ragtime, Showboat) as Porgy. The 15-person cast also includes Bear Bellinger (Peter), Sean Blake (Sportin' Life), Wydetta Carter (Maria), Matt Holzfeind (Archdale), James Earl Jones II (Crown), Joelle Lamarre (Lily), Brian-Alwyn Newland (Robbins), Harriet Nzinga Plumpp (Clara), Kelvin Roston, Jr. (Jim), Bethany Thomas (Serena), Travis Turner (Mingo), Adrienne Walker (Annie), and Byron Glenn Willis (Jake).
The Porgy and Bess orchestra features Doug Peck (Conductor / Piano), Nick Moran (Woodwinds), Brent Roman (Percussion), Chuck Bontrager (Violin/Viola), Christian Dillingham (Bass), and Stephen Orjudos (Trumpet/Flugelhorn).
The creative team includes John Culbert (scenic design), Jacqueline Firkins (costume design), Brian H. Scott (lighting design), Joshua Horvath (sound design) and Drew Dir (dramaturg). The Production Stage Manager is Sara Gammage. The Stage Manager is William Collins.
Charles Newell (Director) has been Artistic Director of Court Theatre since 1994, where he has directed over 30 productions. He made his Chicago directorial debut in 1993 with The Triumph of Love, which won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Production. Directorial highlights at Court include Three Tall Women, The Year of Magical Thinking, The Wild Duck, Caroline, Or Change, Titus Andronicus, Arcadia, Man of La Mancha, Uncle Vanya, Raisin, The Glass Menagerie, Travesties, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Hamlet, The Invention of Love, The Little Foxes, Nora, and The Misanthrope. Charlie has also directed at the Goodman Theatre (Rock ‘n' Roll), the Guthrie Theater (Resident Director: The History Cycle, Cymbeline), Arena Stage, John Houseman's The Acting Company (Staff Repertory Director), the California and Alabama Shakespeare Festivals, Juilliard, and New York University. He is the recipient of the 1992 TCG Alan Schneider Director Award. He has served on the Board of Theatre Communications Group, as well as on several panels for the National Endowment for the Arts. Opera directing credits include Marc Blitzstein's Regina at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Rigoletto at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Charlie is a multiple Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago's highest theatrical honor) nominee and recipient. Most recently, his production of Caroline, Or Change at Court was the recipient of 4 Joseph Jefferson Awards, including Best Production-Musical and Best Director-Musical.