Drama Talk & Drinks: Porgy and Bess

Brittany and Katie are on a roll, seeing some really great theater around town. Here’s their review of Porgy and Bess:


After speed dating the cast and creatives of the touring cast of Porgy and Bess, now playing at SHN’s Golden Gate Theater, we were excited to see them in action. Donning our Julia-Roberts-in-Pretty-Women opera wear, we headed to the theater for some Drama Talk and Drinks.

Katie: I liked it (laughs) . . . I mean opera isn’t my favorite, but I really enjoyed this story. Everyone was really talented and I cared a lot about the characters. I was moved by this play.

Brittany: I think what was remarkable about this production is that they did such a good job of making the opera really raw. They brought a slightly more contemporary way of singing to some songs, which I liked, but it still honored the opera tradition. If you are a purist, some of these numbers may not sound like you remember, but I think it translates well for a new musical theater audience. The way they brought the wailing and the opera together. Their crying was singing, and their singing was crying, and I loved that.

K: Yeah, The music was beautiful. The struggle really spoke to me. The love between Porgy and Bess – I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a closeted hopeless romantic – that story kept me engaged. All I can say is it was passionate and beautiful, everything I think an opera wants to be.

B: It was a beautiful production. The costumes were beautiful. ESosa created clothing that made the actors look great. The lighting was my favorite part. I thought it was perfectly done, and did such a good job of directing your attention in subtle ways. I thought every single one of the actors had a deep and awesome backstory, and it was great to see those develop throughout the show.


The Verdict: This is a beautiful revival. If you aren’t an opera person, this could be a good way to get your feet wet. It has the operatic qualities, but also falls back on the Gershwins’ jazz influences throughout the production. If you’re a Porgy and Bess purist be warned, this production moves a lot faster than the original opera, which may not be a welcome change (it wasn’t for the Porgy and Bess superfan we went with, although he still enjoyed the show). If you really can’t stand opera, Porgy and Bess probably isn’t for you no matter how good or short the production. The folks we chatted up at Mr. Smith’s after the show were admittedly not opera people, and haven’t been to a musical in years. They were significantly less impressed than we were.

The Drama Talk: Porgy and Bess started as a book that explored the Gullah culture and the lives of African American fisherman on “Catfish Row” in South Carolina. The story was first turned into a play, then Gershwin turned it into an American folk opera in 1935. Many opera companies were uncomfortable staging it because Gershwin insisted it be played by black performers, so it was first performed as a musical. This revival honors that history, from it’s Gullah roots to its civil rights undertones, rounding out with 1930s jazz influences. In doing so it creates a layered and beautiful production of this classic American opera.

The Drinks: Mr. Smith’s is right around the corner from SHN’s Golden Gate theater, on the corner of 7th and Market. But despite it’s convenient location, the trek through Mid-Market is evidently too much for many theater goers, because they were empty and about to close when we arrived after the show. The bouncer, Jerry, and bartender, Mike, were true gems, and invited us in for a final drink. We had delicious craft made cocktails, Brittany got the Marmalade Sour and Katie got the 7th Street Gimlet, and we had a great conversation with a few fellow audience members about the show and theater in San Francisco. That’s what’s great about mixing theater and drinking, it brings strangers together.

Porgy and Bess runs through December 8th at SHN’s Golden Gate Theater. All tickets are subject to dynamic pricing based on demand, but prices seem to range from $40 – $210, and are available through the SHN website.


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