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The Playgoer

"Porgy and Bess," Operatic Adaptation of "Porgy"


The combined talents of George Gershwin as composer, DuBose Heyward as librettist and Rouben Mamoulian as director have been welded by the Theatre Guild's skillful wand into "Porgy and Bess" an "American Folk Opera" of unique distinction. Although it is essentially operatic material Mr. Gershwin has put his work upon the legitimate boards through a desire to give it broader circulation than it could achieve through operatic channels, and a good thing it is indeed.

Naturally the great interest in this production must focus upon Gershwin's music, for the libretto is but a direct translation of Heyword's familiar dramatic success. It is impossible, however, especially after a single hearing, to consider the score as an entity apart. Profoundly inspired by the rich drama of "Porgy", Gershwin has blended his music so utterly into the soul of the play that it combines with the stage actions to produce a single, deeply stirring impression.

To those of academic turn Mr. Gershwin's music may seem a brilliant but superficial tour de force; to this reviewer it appeared a magnificent blending of striking themes which truly represent the musical content of Mr. Heyward's material, and clearly a work which can proudly take its place beside Gershwin's previous compositions as representative of the promise of American music. There are songs such as "Woman is a Sometime Thing", "I got Plenty o' Nuttin'", and "It ain't Necessarily So", which have a haunting melodic appeal and seem destined for considerable popularity. And there are themes such as those used in "Buzzard Song" and "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" which are highly talented musical expressions of Mr. Gershwin's peculiar genius. Final judgment of the music is obviously the work of a music critic but the inspiration and dramatic worth of the score demand praise from even an unlearned quarter.

Mr. Heyward has converted his play into a libretto of natural and powerful drama, rich in action and skillful in thematic development. Rouben Mamoulian has performed a near-wonder of directorial genius aided by the sets of Sergei Soudeikine and the conducting of Alexander Smallens.

The cast, assembled with care and sound judgment, offers a large number of excellent negro talcuts. Credit must especially be given to Todd Dunean for a magnificent performance as Porgy, to Anne Wiggins Brown who played Bess, to John Bubbles who gave the full sum of his effervescent charm to the role of Sportin' Life, and to Warren Coleman as Crown.

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