“Art Isn’t Easy”

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When Stephen Sondheim, the mighty deity of  the American musical theater, speaks (or writes a letter to the New York Times), the national theatrical eco-system of critics, practitioners, and audiences stops to listen.  When he attacks a new production of a classic work without a single performance having been performed yet, calling its director, librettist, and lead actress “arrogant”, “condescending”, and even “dumb” for the supposed changes to the work that they are planning to make, everyone drops whatever they are doing and buys a plane ticket to Boston to see what the hell the theatrical kerfuffle is all about.  So that’s how I found myself last week at the American Repertory Theater sitting in seat B16 waiting for the curtains to rise on its new Broadway-bound production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, directed by Artistic Director Diane Paulus, starring four-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald as Bess, with an updated libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Topdog/Underdog, Suzan-Lori Parks.  And I gotta say, I’m not really sure what Sondheim was fussing about, because, despite some slight imperfections, this is a glorious Porgy and Bess- marvelously sung, impeccably and thoughtfully staged, a reverent, soulful tribute to its legendary creators, the Gershwins and novelist Dubose Heyward and his wife Dorothy.

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