Category Archives: Gershwin

“Lady Be Good”

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London • 4 August 2007 • 2:30pm
Music by George Gershwin. Lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Book by Guy Bolton & Fred Thompson.

Director: Ian Talbot. Musical Director: Catherine Jayes. With Chris Ellis-Stanton (Dick Trevor), Kate Nelson (Susie Trevor), Norman Bowman (Jack Robinson), Hattie Ladbury (Josephine Vanderwater), Charlotte Warren (Daisy Parke), Giles Taylor (Bertie Bassett), Paul Grunert (Watty Watkins), Rachel Jerram (Shirley Vernon), Thomas Padden (Manuel Estrada), Steve Watts (Rufus Parke)…

The gods of scheduling have been good to me: right after The Drowsy Chaperone, they allowed me to see the very kind of show that Drowsy pays tribute to. The 1924 Lady Be Good boasted a score by George & Ira Gershwin and a cast led by Fred & Adele Astaire. It is the quintessential 1920s musical: fun and light-hearted. The score of Lady Be Good may be an early effort by the Gershwin brothers, but it already contains much of what made their songs so unique.

The setup of the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park doesn’t allow for elaborate set changes or for a large orchestra. But the charming score, the energetic cast and a respectful staging which doesn’t resort too much to a defiant second degree combine to make the experience highly enjoyable.

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“Porgy and Bess”

Savoy Theatre, London • 25 November 2006 • 7:30pm

“A new musical production by” George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin.
Adapted and directed by Trevor Nunn. Music adapted by Gareth Valentine. Choreography by Jason Pennycooke. With Clarke Peters (Porgy), Nicola Hughes (Bess), Cornell S. John (Crown), O.-T. Fagbenle (Sporting Life),…

It’s amazing that the opera that sometimes was accused to be a musical in disguise is now officially presented as a musical. Trevor Nunn has made the show shorter, has replaced the recitatives by spoken scenes taken either from the original novel, Porgy, by DuBose Heyward or from the non-musical play Heyward co-wrote with his wife Dorothy. Gareth Valentine has reduced the score for 20 musicians. And, of course, there is amplification.

The result, I have to say, is spectacular. The score shines throughout and benefits in places from the “lighter” treatment. Some pieces that never made it into the 1935 score, like a funky prologue, are wonderful discoveries. The staging is magnificent, with superb visuals and great choreography. Good performances from the cast and orchestra.

Another proof that, whether as an opera or as a musical, Porgy and Bess is truly a masterpiece of the musical theatre.

“Crazy For You”

Royal & Derngate (Derngate Auditorium), Northampton (UK) • 4 November 2006 • 2:30pm

Music: George Gershwin. Lyrics: Ira Gershwin. Libretto: Ken Ludwig.
Presented by the Northampton Amateur Operatic Company. Director/Choreographer: Martyn Knight. Musical Director: Paul Truman.

I have a very special relationship with Crazy For You, one of the first shows that I saw in London, in 1995. I was overwhelmed then by the luscious Gershwin score (enhanced of course by Bill Brohn’s orchestrations), the superlative production values, the inexhaustible inventiveness of Susan Stroman’s choreography (I can still feel my eyes get misty the moment those spotlights pinned the girls-turned-basses in “Slap That Bass”) and even by the cleverness of the libretto. To this day, Crazy For You remains one of the CDs that I will play when I need to cheer myself up.

I saw two other professional productions after the original London production (one in Millburn, New Jersey and the other one in Amsterdam). It came as a surprise when I heard that the Northampton amateur operatic society would be doing the show right when I was there to catch a much talked-about production of Follies (see next post).

I think I’d only ever seen two amateur productions in my life (not counting France), both in Windsor, Ontario: Once Upon a Mattress and The Wizard of Oz… so I didn’t really know what to expect, especially since C4U (as it’s also known) is a demanding show.

There was no need to worry. The minute the orchestra started playing the overture, I knew I was in for something special. The sound coming from the pit was spectacular… with one significant exception, the ugly synthesiser used to replace the string section (there was a real double bass, of course). Ten excellent brass and reed players, most of them playing two, three or even (it seemed) four instruments. And these guys are amateurs?

The overall scenic design was great and allowed for the smooth scene changes that the show requires. There were only two awkward scene changes in the whole show, which is a feat. The sets were greatly enhanced by a lighting scheme that seemed to bathe the stage in rather spectacular swashes of colour.

The acting and singing was mostly of near-West End caliber, with some especially strong performances (Lisa Simpson as Irene Roth, for instance). What was lacking, sadly, is the dancing. Sure, you can’t probably expect amateurs to be first-class dancers, but Crazy For You was designed as a showcase for Stroman’s choreography, and when everything else is of such great quality, well, you tend to become demanding. Most of the dance scenes, especially those involving Bobby, seemed to have been choreographed in slow motion.

But that orchestra was really something…