Porgy and Bess

When I was a little girl, my parents listened to records on the stereo.  And a lot of those records were soundtracks.  So I grew up knowing the words and music to a lot of musicals I hadn’t actually seen.   One of the greatest joys about moving to New York has been, not only being able to see so many Broadway plays and musicals, but also to have the opportunity to see revivals of some of the musicals I fell in love with simply through the score.

One of those musicals is Porgy and Bess and recently I had the opportunity to go to the Richard Rogers Theatre and see the new revival with Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis.  If you read the papers you’re already familiar with the brouhaha that surrounded the premiere of the revival complete with words from Stephen Sondheim.   A lot of them not so good.

BUT, I’m here to tell you that I found the musical thoroughly entrancing.  I’d already fallen in love with Audra McDonald.  I hadn’t had the opportunity to see her on Broadway although she’s been in several productions since I’ve lived here, but I’ve heard her sing on various shows, and adored her character on Private Practice.  So I’ll admit it was a toss-up between seeing her and hearing the Gershwin’s music that drew me to the production.

And neither of them disappointed.  McDonald was sublime.  As many of the reviews have said, she is the soul of the show.   Her physicality, especially during the rape scene on the island is spell-binding.  We can actually feel Bess’s  dejection, hope, despair, and finally acceptance as she moves through the story.   Bess is one of the most finely wrought characters I’ve seen in musical theatre in a long time.  And here, in McDonald’s capable hands, she was beautifully portrayed.

But in my mind, the show belonged to Norm Lewis.  If McDonald is the soul, he is the heart.  His Porgy embodied what it is to find something in the middle of nothing and to realize the importance of the find. Not only in the fact that he comes to love Bess, but that in the aftermath of everything that happens, he has actually become a stronger man.  One who is now willing to fight for more than what he’s come to believe is his place in life.   And although the show ends on a note not exactly true to the original (as I understand) I thought it was lovely.  And Lewis’s portrayal was emotionally wrenching and uplifting all at the same time.   And like McDonald, his physicality was amazing.

David Alan Grier who I’ve watched on television for years, was great fun to watch on stage as well.  And his singing voice was excellent.  Ain’t Necessarily So, one of my favorite song was the high point of his performance.

Summertime, sung first by Nikki Renee Daniels and then in the second act by McDonald, was beautifully done both times.  And worth the ticket price just to hear both women sing the song.   And to hear it in the context of the story made it even more moving.   In addition to Daniels, the rest of the supporting cast was excellent. Particularly,  Natasha Yvette Williams as Mariah and Joshua Henry as Jake.

The set was simple but evoked a time and place and was well used as we moved from the town square to Porgy’s house, to the island and back again.  The storm was beautifully done with sound and lighting and the loss of both Jake and Clara was keenly felt through the choreography as well as the music.

All in all it was a magical night at the theatre and a chance to see and hear a great American classic, sung by an amazing cast led by McDonald and Lewis.

Porgy and Bess, Richard Rogers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street  (212) 221-1211

Dee is a Cosmo Girl!!!

Once in her life a girl definitely needs to be in Cosmo!  And today’s the day.  Harrison and Hannah and my newest book Deadly Dance are featured as Cosmo’s Hot Read for May!  To celebrate, Grand Central will be giving away two subscruptions to Cosmo check it out on the Forever website!
And for an excerpt from the book go to

Jesus Christ Superstar

So with Easter only a week away, it seems the perfect time of year to see Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway.  The Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice musical was considered innovative when it opened almost forty years ago.   And I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this newest incarnation, a reimagined version coming out of Stratford in England via La Hoya in California.

When I was in the seventh grade our choir director played the album for us.  And I was transformed.  I grew up listening to the soundtracks from various musicals and loving every one of them, but this was something different.  A musical that spoke my language.   It was sparkling, dynamic and reintroduced me to a story I’d grown up with  in a way that made it current—something that resonated with me in a way old Bible stories had never done.  Like Godspell, it transformed the past into a beating heart I could understand. Something real.  Tangible.

And all that from an album!  Imagine what it would be like to see the real thing?  Only of course as a teenager in Dallas (at the time) I didn’t really have much of a chance to head for New York and Broadway.  Fast-forward to 1977 and I was there.  But unfortunately Jesus Christ Superstar wasn’t on our itinerary.  In the meantime though, I bought the album and celebrated the music.

Fast forward again to 2012 and the Broadway revival.  This time, I’m living in the city and counting the days until tickets go on sale.  But in the back of my mind, I’m a little worried.  I’m a lot older.  And I’d seen the revival of Godspell and failed to find the enchantment I’d seen all those years ago, even though I still loved the music.   But I’d also revisited A Chorus Line (a musical that was on that 1977 itinerary) and it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered.  I still had hope.

So tickets in hand, we presented ourselves at the Neil Simon Theatre last week, settled into our seats, and with great anticipation, awaited the opening of the show.   And I have to say that from the first electrical notes I was transported.  Not only to my youth, but deep into the story of the end of Jesus’s life on earth and the disappointment  and disillusion that plagued his friends and followers at the end.

Although I found the electronic signs distracting, the rest of the set was wonderfully created and used to full advantage.  And the costumes, while certainly not truly period, evoked the essence of the characters who wore them, coming together to create a well-rounded essence of both place and time.

Josh Young as Judas, opened with the stunningly powerful Heaven on Their Minds.  The energy level in the theatre rising with every chord and note.  He was particularly strong I thought in both the opening and in Judas’s death.   Although I wasn’t as connected in the end when he sang Superstar, but I think that was more the costuming which jumped to modern clothes in electric blue (including shoes) and was quite distracting.

Paul Nolan, playing Jesus, was excellent as well.  I found his Jesus much more on the mark than Hunter Parrish’s Jesus in Godspell.  Nolan’s voice was strong and filled with emotion, particularly singing Gethsemane.  And the ending with the cross, had me reaching for my husband’s handkerchief.  It was beautifully played.

Chilina Kennedy played Mary with a wily grace that put one in mind of a ballerina.  She was both earthy and ethereal, the combination the perfect embodiment of both Mary’s past and her involvement with Jesus and his disciples.   Everything’s Alright was a lovely balance between her voice, Nolan’s and Young’s.  And the chemistry between the three was palpable.  And I Don’t Know How To Love Him carried Mary to a completely separate place as she grappled with loving (probably for the first time) a man she knows she can never have.

Tom Hewitt, playing Pilot, was marvelous singing Pilot’s Dream.  And Bruce Dow almost brought the house down as Harod singing Herod’s song.   The rest of the cast provided the perfect backdrop.  From the ensemble in the crowd scenes to the men portraying the disciples.

All in all it was a wonderful performance.  I had thought that at the very least, I would be able to sit back, close my eyes, and listen to the marvelous music.  But instead, thankfully, I was carried back to Jerusalem and final days of Jesus Christ–who most certainly was a Superstar!

Happy Easter everyone!  If you get the chance.  Go see the musical.

Jesus Christ Superstar, Neil Simon Theatre, 250, West 53nd Street. 877-250-2929