The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa


November 11, 2013

Cast of 'Porgy and Bess' excited for tour

NEW YORK — Nathaniel Stampley ached to make the role of Porgy his own in the celebrated 2012 Broadway revival of “Porgy and Bess.” Instead, he kept dying.

Stampley was an understudy for Norm Lewis in the title role and bided his time by playing the small role of Robbins in the revamped version of the Gershwin classic. Robbins is killed with a cotton hook in a fight after a dice game on page 15 of the script.

Now Stampley, who first fell in love with the musical as a teenager in the chorus of a production in Milwaukee, will finally get his shot as Porgy: He leads the national tour that kicks off a 14-state tour this weekend in San Francisco.

“Let me tell you. It’s a dream come true,” he says. “This is a full-circle moment for me many, many years later. I’m humbled by that and yet I’m really excited.”

Stampley, together with Alicia Hall Moran as Bess, are among a cast of almost 30 that will crisscross the country until next summer in the Tony Award-winning production that wowed audiences on Broadway.

The musical, backed by a 23-piece orchestra on the road, looks at life in the fictitious Catfish Row in the early 1920s. It boasts such classic songs as “Summertime,” ‘‘Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” ‘‘I Got Plenty o’ Nothin’” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

Diane Paulus, the artistic director of the American Repertory Theater, adapted the Gershwin opera for the Broadway stage with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and Obie Award-winning composer Diedre Murray.

The team condensed the four-hour opera into a two-and-one-half-hour musical, eliminated a lot of the repetitiveness and tried to deepen the characters. Their effort generated headlines when purists including Stephen Sondheim complained that a musical treasure was being corrupted.

But powered by Lewis and Audra McDonald onstage, the revival won the best revival Tony — beating Sondheim’s “Follies,” by the way — and was a box office draw. Paulus, who since has found success reinvigorating “Pippin,” was happy to return to “Porgy and Bess” and get it ready to tour.

“It’s such a great opportunity to go back to something like this because it gives back so much,” she says. “It’s like having children — you relive the thrill through people who have never experienced it before.”

“Porgy and Bess,” which premiered in 1935, has a special place in American theater history. It was one of the first shows to showcase classically trained African-American singers to a mainstream audience.

The opera’s first national tour played a role in desegregating the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. The original Porgy, Todd Duncan, refused to go on stage unless all seats were open to all colors for all performances. That will no doubt be remembered when the tour hits Washington before Christmas.

“We stand on the shoulders of all the people who have been part of the history of this work. There’s nothing better than feeling connected,” says Paulus. “There is this history. And rather than it feeling like a burden, you rise on top of it.”

Stampley hopes this production will make “Porgy and Bess” accessible to a younger audience. “You still get the best of both worlds. You still get a great story and you get to hear Gershwin. Anytime you get to hear Gershwin in your life, it’s a good thing.”

Like Stampley, the new Bess has been waiting a long time to make the role her own. She too was an understudy on Broadway for McDonald and can’t wait to show the country her impressive voice and acting chops.

“I think I have always had a very large personality. It’s very lucky for me that I’m getting this opportunity to bring my art to a very big stage,” says Moran, a California native. Plus, she calls her Porgy a “walking, talking greatness machine of kindness.”

The tour has given costume designer Emilio Sosa a chance to tweak the outfits that earned him a Tony nomination. “I like to keep it fresh and interesting,” says the designer, who has created costumes from everyone from Celine Dion to Alvin Ailey dancers.

He plans to stop by the tour in San Francisco, Washington and Dallas. “I call them drive-bys. They might be called fly-bys for this tour,” he says with a laugh. “I like to just drive by and live it — see how things are.”

One member of the company never actually got to see the “Porgy and Bess” revival on Broadway and she has a very good reason. Danielle Lee Greaves, who plays Mariah, was busy acting in the revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire” that was on simultaneously.

The New Yorker says she is looking forward to hitting the role, having toured with “Rent” and “The Lion King.” She’s never been to Las Vegas or San Francisco and is excited to return to Seattle and Los Angeles.

A self-described “pro-packer,” Greaves offers these tips from a theater pro: Put everything in plastic baggies, use a duffle bag instead of a suitcase and roll everything up: “You can’t imagine how much you can get into a suitcase when you roll it,” she says.

Text Only
  • 7-22-14 water 2 Rotary Club donation gets water to Haitians CLINTON — Nine Haitian communities now have the blessing of clean water due to the work of local Iowa Rotary clubs, including Clinton’s, and the charity Water for Life.Water for Life Directors Joy and Leon Miller have been drilling wells for years as

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-22-14 Emily Evans 7 seek pageant crown CLINTON — The time has come for Miss Clinton County Brandy Herrington to pass her crown on to the next lucky contestant and this year the competition is thick.When the event commences on Saturday at the DeWitt Central Performing Arts Center, seven yo

    July 22, 2014 7 Photos

  • Jhanson Calling America home CLINTON — Born in Russia, Natasha Jhanson now considers the United States her home.When the 41-year-old was born in Russia, the Soviet Union was still intact. When Natasha was 14, the area split into multiple countries. At that point, her family move

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-18-14 Party in the Park Party in the Park a big hit CAMANCHE — Nearly 300 people joined together Thursday to celebrate their community and all it has to offer to its residents.During the fourth annual Party in the Park, Camanche combined all their forces including city councilmen, business owners and

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Choir reunion spanning five decades CLINTON — Music helped Dan Ivory form long-lasting bonds. A Clinton High graduate in 1989, Ivory said being able to sing and play in the marching band was a rewarding experience for him, one he has sorely missed over the last 25 years.“Being in a cap

    July 14, 2014

  • Jered Birt Birt joins Northeast staff DEWITT — After eight years of teaching physical education and coaching in the Central Community School District in DeWitt, Jered Birt, 33, will move to Northeast Middle/High School.Birt was recently named the assistant principal at Northeast Middle/H

    July 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • 'Y' raising funds with annual art event CLINTON — What difference can $20,000 make for the YWCA’s mission? That’s the amount raised from last year’s Art Under the Stars event, all of which went toward helping support the association’s victims of violence mission work.“It truly is entertain

    July 11, 2014

  • Slate of 'family-friendly' activities begins July 16 DEWITT — Clinton County has found its “fair niche,” said county fair director Mary Stevenson. The goal is to keep the event family friendly, and with four days packed with activities, Stevenson feels that her group has accomplished the task once agai

    July 10, 2014

  • Whiteside County book A historical perspective FULTON, Ill. — After nearly three years of research, the Whiteside County Genealogy Society and Fulton Historical Society are ready to unveil a one-of-a-kind historical archive for the people of Whiteside County.Comprised of detailed family lineage a

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

Clinton Herald Photos

Browse, buy and submit pictures with our photo site.