Porgy and Bess

Summertime, and the livin' is easy - Porgy and Bess is set in a poor black fishing community in the former slave state of South Carolina and is both a poignant love story, a parable of human aspiration and a political document of its time. Includes the classic numbers Summertime; I've Got Plenty o' Nuttin'; It Ain't Necessarily So; My Man's Gone Now; Bess, You Is My Woman Now; and I Loves You, Porgy. A powerful story of love and betrayal, it is now celebrated as a landmark piece of American theatre.

Musical with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, and book by DuBose Heyward, based on the Dorothy Heyward and DuBose Heyward play Porgy, and the DuBose Heyward novel.

1929: Play Version - Original West End London Production - His Majesty's Theatre

1952: Original West End London Production - Stoll Theatre

1976: London Concert - St Pancras Town Hall

1987: London Concert - Royal Festival Hall

1988: London Concert - Royal Festival Hall

1989: London Revival (cancelled) - Pavilion on the Green, Ealing

1992: London Revival - Royal Opera House

1998: London Concert - Royal Albert Hall

1999: London Revival - Royal Festival Hall

2005: London Concert - Barbican Hall

2006: 1st West End London Revival - Savoy Theatre

2009/2012: London Revival - London Coliseum

2014: London Revival - Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

2018: London Revival - London Coliseum

The Gershwin's musicals include Lady, Be Good!, An American in Paris, My One and Only, Crazy For You, and Hershey Felder's compilation show George Gershwin Alone.


1929: Play Version - Original West End London Production

Opened 10 April 1929 (no previews), Closed 1 June 1929 at His Majesty's Theatre

Play by DuBose Heyward and Dorothy Heyward.

The cast included Frank Wilson as 'Porgy', Evelyn Ellis as 'Bess', Jack Carter as 'Crown', Georgette Harvey as 'Maria', Rose MacClendon as 'Serena', Edna Thomas as 'Clara', and Percy Verwayne as 'Sporting Life'.

Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, with designs by Cleon Throckmorton.

This was the non-musical play version, presented with the full American cast by the Theatre Guild, New York. This production was originally staged at Broadway's Theatre Guild (now August Wilson Theatre) for an 11-month run from October 1927 to August 1928.


1952: Original West End London Production

Opened 9 October 1952 (no previews), Closed 10 February 1953 at the Stoll Theatre (now rebuilt as the Peacock Theatre)

The cast included William Warfield or LeVern Hutcherson as 'Porgy', Leontyne Price or Urylee Leonardos as 'Bess', John McCurry as 'Crown', Georgia Burke as 'Maria', Helen Thigpen as 'Serena', Helen Colbert as 'Clara', and Cab Calloway as 'Sportin' Life'.

Directed by Robert Breen, with sets by Wolfgang Roth, and costumes by Jed Mace.

This was an international touring production, arriving in London's West End direct from a season in Berlin.

In London the production closed on Tuesday 10 February 1953 to allow the entire production to move to Paris where it opened on Monday 16 February 1953. Following the Paris season the production then moved to New York, where it opened at Broadway's Ziegfeld Theatre (now demolished) on 10 March 1953.

The Stoll Theatre was a 2,500-seater theatre which has since been demolished, with the Peacock Theatre built on the site.


1976: London Concert

Monday 15 and Wednesday 17 March 1976 at St Pancras Town Hall (now Camden Town Hall)

The cast included Willard White as 'Porgy', LaVerne Williams as 'Bess', John O'Flynn as 'Crown', Grace Dives as 'Maria', Dorothy Ross as 'Serena', Dinah Harris as 'Clara', and Zack Matalon as 'Sportin' Life'.

Conducted by Simon Rattle.

Concert staging presented by the Chelsea Opera Group as part of the Annual Camden Festival.

The 750-seater Camden Town Hall is located in the Euston Road.


1987: London Concert

Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 July 1987 at the Royal Festival Hall

The cast included Bruce Hubbard as 'Porgy', LaVerne Williams as 'Bess', Gregg Baker as 'Crown', Harolyn Blackwell as 'Clara', and Damon Evans as 'Sportin' Life', with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andre Previn.

This was a condensed highlights concert staging.


1988: London Concert

Thursday 4 and Sunday 7 February 1988 at the Royal Festival Hall

The cast included Willard White as 'Porgy', Cynthia Holman as 'Bess', Gregg Baker as 'Crown', Marietta Simpson as 'Maria', Cynthia Clarey as 'Serena', Harolyn Blackwell as 'Clara', and Damon Evans as 'Sportin' Life', with the London Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle.

A concert staging of Trevor Nunn's Glyndebourne Festival Opera Production. This was effectively a 'rehearsal' for the cast recording for the Glyndebourne production, with the cast going into a recording studio immediately following these two concerts.


1989: London Revival (cancelled)

Previewed 18 December 1989, Opened 19 December 1989, Closed 6 January 1990 at the Pavilion on the Green, Ealing
Tuesday 19 December 1989 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Directed by Jack O'Brien, with choreography by Mabel Robinson, sets by Douglas W. Schmidt, and costumes by Nancy Potts.

This major production was due to be held in a temporary 5,000-seater tent called 'Pavilion on the Green' located on Ealing Common, Uxbridge. Unfortunately West London experienced a major storm over the weekend of 16 and 17 December 1989 which caused significant damage to the tent and caused the entire run to be cancelled.

The preview performance on Monday 18 December 1989 was due to be a Gala Charity Performance in aid of Help the Aged. As a replacement to the cancelled Gala, a special private 'one-off' concert presentation was hastily arranged for Tuesday 19 December 1989, primarily for the invited guests - which included George and Ira Gershwin's sister, Frances Gershwin Godowsky - that had been expecting to attend the Monday evening Gala.


1992: London Revival

Opened 9 October 1992 (no previews), Closed 7 November 1992 (in repertory) at the Royal Opera House

The cast included Willard White as 'Porgy', Cynthia Haymon as 'Bess', Gregg Baker as 'Crown', Marietta Simpson as 'Maria', Cynthia Clarey as 'Serena', Tinuke Olafimihan as 'Clara', and Damon Evans as 'Sportin' Life'.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, choreography by Charles Augins, sets by John Gunter, and costumes by Sue Blane.

The Royal Opera present Trevor Nunn's 1986 Glyndebourne production.


1998: London Concert

Saturday 1 August 1998 at the Royal Albert Hall

The cast included Willard White as 'Porgy', Cynthia Haymon as 'Bess', Daniel Washington as 'Crown', Marietta Simpson as 'Maria', Cynthia Clarey as 'Serena', Maureen Brathwaite as 'Clara', and Michael Forest as 'Sportin' Life', with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Wayne Marshall.

Presented by the BBC Proms, and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.


1999: London Revival

Opened 13 September 1999 (no previews), Closed 18 September 1999 at the Royal Festival Hall

The cast included Brian R Gibson, Mark Anthony Hall or Samuel Clark Stevenson as 'Porgy', Jerris Cates, Elizabeth Graham or La-Rose Saxon as 'Bess', Stephen B Finch as 'Crown', Kim Sylvain as 'Maria', Anne Fridal as 'Serena', Sharon Linette Edwards as 'Clara', and Duane A Moody as 'Sporting Life'.

Staged by Elizabeth Graham, from original direction by Will Robertson, with choreographed by Kevin Jeff, sets by James Fouchard, and costumes by Candace Donnelly.

Peter Klein's New York Living Arts touring production presented in association with Raymond Gubbay.


2005: London Concert

Friday 10 June 2005 Barbican Hall

The cast included Gregg Baker as 'Porgy', and Alison Buchanan as 'Bess', with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Wayne Marshall.

Presented by Pegasus Opera Company in aid of War Child, and Hope and Homes for Children.


2006: 1st West End London Revival

Previewed 25 October 2006, Opened 9 November 2006, Closed 5 May 2007 at the Savoy Theatre

Trevor Nunn's production of George and Ira Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in London - The Masterpiece - Reborn as a Musical!

A major London West End revival of this classic musical opera in a new slimmed-down version by the acclaimed director Trevor Nunn and featuring new orchestrations by Gareth Valentine.

Porgy and Bess has been extensively reworked and re-orchestrated to draw more deeply on the story's Southern roots and injected with renewed verve and pace. This fresh interpretation brings to the Savoy Theatre in London one of the biggest companies in the West End - a 60-strong company, with 40 in the cast and a 20-piece orchestra in this brand new 3 million musical production specially adapted and directed by Trevor Nunn.

The cast featured Clarke Peters as 'Porgy', Nicola Hughes as 'Bess', Cornell S John as 'Crown', Melanie E Marshall as 'Maria', Dawn Hope as 'Serena', Lorraine Velez as 'Clara', and O-T Fagbenle as 'Sporting Life', with Anton Stephens as 'Robbins', Cavin Cornwall as 'Nelson', Des Coleman as 'Mingo', Edward Baruwa as 'Jake', Ewart James Walters as 'Undertaker', Glenn Conroy as 'Mr Archdale'/'Coroner', Hannah Levane as 'Annie', Ian Carlyle as 'Crabman', Julian Cannonier as 'Jim', Maurey Richards as 'Peter', Ruby King as 'Strawberry Woman', Sam Douglas as 'Detective', Stephen Lester as 'Policeman', Yolanda Grant-Thompson as 'Lily', A J Lewis, Chris Copeland, Emi Wokoma, George Daniel Long, Holly James, Josie Benson, Leroy Ricardo Jones, Lewis Davies, Lisa Davina Phillip, Nathaniel Morrison, Neisha-Yen Jones, Ngo Omene-Ngofa, Nolan Frederick, Paul Isles, Phillip Browne, Sandra Marvin, Terel Nugent, and Wendy Mae Brown.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, with choreography by Jason Pennycooke, sets by John Gunter, costumes by Sue Blane, lighting by David Hersey, and sound by Paul Groothuis.

Clarke Peters' London theatre credits include Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra (National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre 2003); John Dempsey and Dana Rowe musical The Witches of Eastwick (Prince of Wales Theatre 2001); the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical Kiss Of The Spider Woman (Shaftesbury Theatre 1993); the Louis Jordan musical Five Guys Named Moe (Lyric Theatre 1990); Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh (Almeida Theatre 1998); the Sheldon Epps' musical Blues In The Night (Donmar Warehouse 1987); and the Frank Loesser's musical Guys and Dolls (Prince of Wales 1985).

Nicola Hughes' London theatre credits include the Bob Fosse dance musical Fosse (Prince of Wales Theatre 2000); the Marvin Hamlisch and David Zippell musical The Goodbye Girl (Albery Theatre 1997); the Pete Townshend and The Who musical Tommy (Shaftesbury Theatre 1996); and the George and Ira Gershwin musical Crazy For You (Prince Edward Theatre 1993).

The director and adapter Trevor Nunn on his production of Porgy and Bess: "I've directed Gershwin's Porgy and Bess at Glyndebourne, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and in a production filmed by Primetime television. I think the work is a masterpiece, I never tire of listening to it, and each time I work on it I discover new things in the richly varied score... For several years now, I have been discussing with my friends in the Gershwin family, the possibility of developing a version of the piece that in vocal range and structure would have the quality of music theatre rather than of opera. The opera has already been fully revealed as a work of genius and, whatever we do in this version, the opera will still be there in all its hugely demanding glory, ready to be performed anywhere in the world... We decided to use the structure of what in the trade is known as 'a book musical'. That means that, instead of the narrative being communicated through relatively slow moving recitative, we have scenes as you do in a play. So the language, taken from Heyward's original novel Porgy and his stage play of the same name, can be quite a lot more complex than the words that were selected to be set to the music, but the playing time is shorter. The other changes are to the key structure, with the aim of giving us a raw 'street' sound, so we should hear a scene very differently."

"Only Sir Trevor Nunn could be sufficiently arrogant to expect the nation to start humming along to 'Summertime' - the big number in Porgy and Bess - just after the clocks have gone back. But, oh mammy, I think the maestro will manage it with his foot-tappingly magnificent adaptation of the classic Gershwin opera at the Savoy Theatre... It helps of course that he has John Gunter's huge, stunningly designed clapperboard house as the backdrop and Sue Blane's lovingly chosen costumes of predominantly pale pastel shades... You can take it for granted that David Braun-White's musical direction does full justice to the sublime lyrics and that all the principals sing like angels. You can take it for granted, too, that Sir Trevor keeps the thing moving along with pace and panache. It is, however, the acting - something so often overlooked in musicals - that will, I fancy, establish this production's claim to be an all-time classic. The chemistry between Nicola Hughes and Clarke Peters is electrifying." The Sunday Telegraph

"Until now, George and Ira Gershwin's Porgy And Bess has been labelled an opera, with all the appropriate operatic accoutrements... Squeezed to less than three hours and on to the Savoy stage with the score reorchestrated for mere actors and a measly 20 musicians, it's now a much more approachable piece. Purists will doubtless turn up their noses at such violations as the opening lullaby Summertime being sung in a lower register than in the opera, but that is because it has to be performed by an actor as opposed to an opera singer, and sung eight times a week, as a West End musical schedule demands... Gone, too, is much of the strung-out recitative, in favour of splendidly salty dialogue. The result is a wonderfully absorbing love story, filled with passionate, moody music that spans Negro spirituals, gospel and jazz... In Trevor Nunn's terrifically atmospheric staging, his magnificently drilled, astonishingly accomplished company sing and dance up a storm. The songs are all the more touching and tender for abandoning operatic formality." The Mail on Sunday

"The wind of change has swept through Catfish Row... There's new dialogue replacing the recitative, a different key structure and a reworked orchestral score for half the number of musicians. The result is quite a different experience: a more boisterous, gritty affair, with some great dance routines and thrillingly energetic ensemble pieces. But there's something missing at the heart of this play; you can marvel at the spectacle but you don't feel drawn in... The cast work tremendously hard and, helped by some real directorial flair from Trevor Nunn they create some great characters... Clarke Peters never stoops to easy sentimentality in his depiction of Porgy, and Nicola Hughes is a compelling Bess. Everyone gives a belting performance of those famous songs and the set is a marvellous construction. But somehow these excellent parts just don't make a satisfying whole." The London Metro

Porgy and Bess in London at the Savoy Theatre previewed from 25 October 2006, opened on 9 November 2006, and closed on 5 May 2007.


2009/2012: London Revival

Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 October 2009 at the Royal Festival Hall
Opened 11 July 2012 (no previews), Closed 21 July 2012 (in repertory) at the London Coliseum

The cast at the London Coliseum included Otto Maidi or Xolela Sixaba as 'Porgy', Sibongile Mngoma, Nonhlanhla Yende or Tsakane Valentine Maswanganyi as 'Bess', Mandisinde Mbuyazwe, Ntobeko Rwanqa or Kaiser Nkosi as 'Crown', Gloria Bosman or Miranda Tini as 'Maria', Arline Jaftha or Nkosazana Dimande as 'Serena', Philisa Sibeko or Nozuko Teto as 'Clara', and Tshepo Moagi or Victor Ryan Robertson as 'Sporting Life'.

Directed by Christine Crouse, with choreography by Sibonakaliso Ndaba, and designs by Michael Mitchell.

Presented by Cape Town Opera with the location of the action moved to Soweto in the 1970s.


2014: London Revival

Previewed 17 July 2014, Opened 28 July 2014, Closed 23 August 2014 at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

A major revival of the Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in London in a new adaptation by Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre L. Murray

Presented for a strictly limited season of just 43 performances.

The cast featured Rufus Bonds Jr as 'Porgy', Nicola Hughes as 'Bess', Phillip Boykin as 'Crown', Sharon D Clarke as 'Mariah', Golda Rosheuvel as 'Serena', Jade Ewen as 'Clara', and Cedric Neal as 'Sportin' Life', with Alex Giannini as 'Detective', Leon Lopez as 'Jake', Marvin Springer as 'Robbins', Owain Gwynn as 'Policeman', Angela M Caesar, Arthur Kyeyune, Claudia Kariuki, David Albury, Ellen O'Grady, George Ikediashi, Jay Marsh, Oliver Lidert, Tania Mathurin, Tyrone Huntley, and Yemie Sonuga.

Directed by Timothy Sheader, with choreography by Liam Steel, designs by Katrina Lindsay, lighting by Rick Fisher, and sound by Nick Lindster.

Timothy Sheader's London theatre directing credits include the Gershwin musical Crazy For You (Novello Theatre 2011) and the new musical Imagine This (New London Theatre 2008). The Gershwin's musicals include Lady, Be Good!, Crazy For You, An American in Paris, and Hershey Felder's George Gershwin Alone.

Porgy and Bess in London at the Open Air Theatre Regent's Park with public previews from 17 July 2014, opening on 28 July 2014 and closing on 23 August 2014.


2018: London Revival

Opened 11 October 2018 (no previews), Closed 17 November 2018 (in repertory) at the London Coliseum

The cast included Eric Greene as 'Porgy', Nicole Cabell as 'Bess', Nmon Ford as 'Crown', Tichina Vaughn as 'Maria', Latonia Moore or Gweneth-Ann Rand as 'Serena', Nadine Benjamin as 'Clara', and Frederick Ballentine as 'Sporting Life', with Byron Jackson as 'Frazier', Chaz'men Williams-Ali as 'Robbins'/'Crab Man', Donovan Singletary as 'Jake', Njabulo Madlala as 'Jim', Nozuko Teto as 'Strawberry Woman', Pumza Mxinwa as 'Lily', Rheinaldt Tshepo Moagi as 'Mingo', Ronald Samm as 'Peter', Sarah-Jane Lewis as 'Annie', Thando Mjandana as 'Nelson', and Whitaker Mills as 'Undertaker'.

Directed by James Robinson, with choreography by Dianne McIntyre, sets by Michael Yeargan, and costumes by Catherine Zuber.

Presented by English National Opera.