‘Porgy and Bess’ comes to the Academy of Music

Alicia Hall Moran is Bess and Nathaniel Stampley plays Porgy in the musical.  Credit: Michael J. Lutch Alicia Hall Moran is Bess and Nathaniel Stampley plays Porgy in the musical.
Credit: Michael J. Lutch

Follow the sound of Alicia Hall Moran’s voice, and there’s no telling where you’ll end up. The classically trained mezzo-soprano has sung opera, graced musical theater stages, collaborated with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and created avant garde work with her husband, jazz pianist Jason Moran.

Playing the female lead in the touring company of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” the Broadway version of the classic opera, allows her to incorporate all of those influences into a single role. “I feel so free in the music of Gershwin because he was influenced by the same music that I love,” Hall Moran says. “He had a mastery of Western classical music and a love for the African-American response to the new world — the blues, jazz, gospel.”

George Gershwin combined all of those influences in “Porgy and Bess,” which depicts the life of African Americans in the fictional Catfish Row in 1920s South Carolina. “By the time you’re hearing his music, it’s an entirely new thing built off of what came before,” Hall Moran says. “It’s just like jazz, creating something authentic but really new. The real innovation comes not when you take a big leap, but when you can sew the last stitch on everything we know and pull them all together.”

Director Diane Paulus, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and composer Diedre L. Murray stoked controversy even before this new “Porgy and Bess” arrived on Broadway, paring the original down and changing the opera’s sung recitative into spoken dialogue to make it more audience-friendly. Stephen Sondheim famously objected in a New York Times editorial.

“What he wrote wasn’t about our show because he never saw our show,” Hall Moran says in response to Sondheim’s piece. “The creative team began to relook at the piece with profound integrity as they put musical theater values onto it. I pinch myself every single day that I’m in a mainstream work that I would call art co-created by an assemblage of the best of the best.”

Discovered
Hall Moran was involved with “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” from the outset, serving as Audra McDonald’s understudy during the show’s Tony winning Broadway run. She was performing “the motown project,” her own show combing soul hits with opera in a cabaret format, at Boston’s Regattabar. That venue happened to be on the same block as the American Repertory Theater, which originally presented the new production.

‘The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess’
Through Feb. 23
Academy of Music
240 S. Broad St.
$20-$105.50, 215-731-3333
www.kimmelcenter.org/broadway

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