Harry Hamm

harry star 4andahalfstars Munys Porgy and Bess Fills the Night With Music

I noticed the Conductor of “Porgy and Bess,”Dale Rieling, opening night at The Muny.

Porgy Orchestra

Photo courtesy of The Muny

There was a real passion and exactitude to his conducting, complimentary to the Gershwin masterwork he was guiding. Like this entire company, there’s a polished fervor to the evening that really links with an audience. Get close to it, and it will break your heart.

Porgy 8

Photo courtesy of The Muny

Written as an operatic folk tale set in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1920s, “Porgy and Bess” is the story of a crippled beggar named Porgy who lives in an area of poverty and bigotry called Catfish Row. In this company, Porgy is played Nathaniel Stampley. It is a demanding role physically and vocally, and Stampley imbues his performance with a hope and sadness that is mesmerizing.

Porgy 5

Photo courtesy of The Muny

Alicia Hall Moran appears as Bess, the trollop of Catfish Row, whose troubled life ends up connecting her with Porgy as his first and only hope for love.

Porgy 6

Photo courtesy of The Muny

Kingsley Leggs is Sporting Life, the local drug dealer and illicit entrepreneur who enslaves many of the residents of Catfish Row with his villainous activities. He also has eyes for Bess and wants to take her to New York with him.

Porgy 4

Photo courtesy of The Muny

This company of “Porgy and Bess” has the most magnificent voices to grace the Muny stage since The Huston Grand Opera brought “Porgy and Bess” here in 1988 with a 47 piece orchestra. (There are 23 pieces in this week’s orchestra pit, but they have the lush sound of 47.) The show has been shortened with more dialogue to make it a little more palatable to newer and younger audiences. The set design is simple and contemporary. Frankly, I preferred something more akin to the original set.

Porgy and Bess National Tour

Photo courtesy of The Muny

“Porgy and Bess” has elements of strong language, sex and violence. I have often thought that there’s a little bit of Porgy in everyone, that inner self who is too often encumbered with the baggage and travails of life. The score of this show ascends into the night air of Forest Park in perfect harmony with The Muny at its finest. “Porgy and Bess” is timeless and personal. In light of its creators, it is its own elegant and ravishing rhapsody in blue.







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