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Porgy and Bess (New Broadway Cast) Cast Recording

3.9 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Cast Recording, May 22, 2012
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Editorial Reviews

THE GERSHWINS' PORGY AND BESS has been reimagined and reinvigorated for the modern stage by a team that includes Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, musical adapter Diedre L. Murray and director Diane Paulus. PS Classics proudly presents the New Broadway Cast Recording starring four-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald, Drama Desk-nominee Norm Lewis, and three-time Tony Award-nominee David Alan Grier.
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 22, 2012)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Cast Recording
  • Label: P.S. Classics
  • ASIN: B007FEHA34
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,887 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Giuseppe C. HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 8, 2012
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Stephen Sondheim did the new production a huge favor by writing an angry letter about the revamped P&B to the "NY Times" long before it hit the stage at the beginning of the year. The producers of the present version could not have paid for better publicity. Sondheim's main focuses were: 1. the substituion of a mere crutch for the formerly crippled Porgy's goat cart; 2. the insistence on "fleshing out" the characters with "back stories" that would explain their behavior more completely for a modern audience; 3. the "softening" of the ending (i.e. less Shakespearean and more Disney); 4. the misleading title for what is, essentially, a rewrite of Gershwin's original. In addition, Sondheim was offended by the presumptuous tone of the show's producers, cast and stars, who seemed eager to suggest that the play was dated, that modern audiences wouldn't sit still for the duration of the original and, worst, that the present directors and cast knew better than Gershwin about how the story and orchestrations should be realized.

Frankly, it's hard to disagree with any of Sondheim's points--providing you've experienced anything like the original Porgy and Bess. If you haven't listened to, say, the Houston Opera production George Gershwin's "Porgy & Bess", none of Sondheim's objections need apply. And even if you have experienced the original "American Folk Opera," the current "Porgy and Bess" plays better than most Broadway musicals you're likely to see. Sure, it's more "racially sensitive," more optimistic and "beautified" (Porgy exudes masculine charisma and virility, and we can only surmise that he will successfully meet up with Bess at play's end).
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Format: MP3 Music Verified Purchase
I was astonished to discover that new orchestrations had been created for "Porgy and Bess" because Mr. Gershwin himself wrote his own orchestrations for the original. This was unusual for the time; Rodgers, Porter, Berlin, etc. relied on orchestrators to accomplish this task. Reportedly, Gershwin spent a great deal of time orchestrating "Porgy and Bess" so we can be fairly certain that the original was just the way he wanted it with no "middleman" on the way to the orchestra pit. My bigger concern, to quote another reviewer, is that this is a staccato performance. Take "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" for example - in my opinion this version is choppy and overacted. They work so hard to make the music sound like dialog that Gershwin's lovely, flowing lines of melody are lost in fits and starts as they "act". Audra is, as always, in lovely voice, but the overall effect is not as pleasing to my ear as I had hoped when I heard that she would be doing this production. In addition, Norm Lewis is not her vocal equal as was, for instance, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and this does not help matters. I recommend listening to samples before you make the purchase to be sure it is what you are looking for in a recording of "Porgy and Bess".
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I haven't read all of the other reviews, but I share the views of those who find this recording not only disappointing but also distressing. I will assume that the producers of this "revival" had good intentions - possibly trying to bring this brilliant classic to the masses - but they've done so by dumbing it down. First, they've eliminated the Gershwins' orchestrations and in some cases even their rhythms; for example, they've replaced the lush orchestration and beguine-like rhythms of "Bess, You Is My Woman..." and replaced it with a flimsy fox trot. They've also made bad casting choices. I mean no insult when I say that Norm Lewis has a Broadway voice; for Broadway it's a fine voice. However, it's not adequate for the grandeur of this role. Similarly, the Crown - he's not listed on the cover, but having listened to good recordings of this opera (and having had the great pleasure of seeing it staged twice), Crown should be sung by someone whose voice is riveting and commanding; in the great confrontation scene with Bess, I found it hard to believe that Crown could subdue her.

Which brings us to the recordings strongest point - Audra McDonald. Is there anything that she can't do brilliantly? She was trained as an opera singer, and it shows. Her voice may actually be a tad light for the role, but when she sings, you listen. The only other artist who does his role justice is David Alan Grier - his Sportin Life is also fantastic.

However, these two strong assets don't make up for the weakness of the overall recording. It should have been called "Porgy and Bess Lite" - or, better yet, it shouldn't have been done in the first place.

If you really want to hear this opera as it should be sung, go get yourself the great recording with John DeMain and the Houston Grand Opera or the more recent recording by Simon Rattle. THOSE are the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess.
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Format: Audio CD
As a huge admirer of Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis, this had been the most anticipated cast recording for me in many years.

Ignoring Paulus et al's need to "improve" on Gershwin's flawed masterpiece, and their shameful disrespect to Dubose Heyward (Stephen Sondheim's editorial was spot on), everything about this recording is a disappointment, except for Ms. McDonald's work.

The "new and improved" orchestrations are awful. The music itself sounds as though the singers performed their parts in separate parts of the country, and then someone edited them together in a studio. The result is a work that is emotionally "flat" and lifeless (and often actually flat as well). While Ms. McDonald is, as always, lovely, even Norm Lewis sounds "wrong" to me.

This recording has very little to recommend it. Although the sound quality is "modern", I'll keep my Anne Brown/Todd Duncan recording for a "Broadway" version, as well as the Glyndebourne Opera version. Even the much maligned film soundtrack has more "life" than this mess of a recording.
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