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Ensemble Theatre Company brings 1960s Jazz to Santa Barbara With a Stunning Reorchestration of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
Santa Barbara, CA – Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) at the New Vic kicks off the New Year with a bold jazz interpretation of the Tony-Award winning musical The Gershwins’Porgy and Bess, composed by George Gershwin, with a libretto by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin, and adapted for the Broadway stage by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog, Father Comes Home from the Wars).
Directed by ETC’s Artistic Director Jonathan Fox, the production runs February 9 – 26 and features beloved songs, including “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” The score is reorchestrated by two-time Grammy-nominated music director Kevin Toney, and performed by an on-stage jazz ensemble.
ETC’s production is set in the 1960s in a poor neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina, and follows the tragic story of the love between a crippled beggar, Porgy, and a beautiful yet broken former cocaine addict and prostitute, Bess. Over a drunken game of craps, Bess’s abusive boyfriend, Crown, murders a rival gambler. Fleeing Catfish Row, Crown leaves Bess at the mercy of a seductive drug dealer and pimp named Sportin’ Life. As the residents of Catfish row ignore Bess’s cries for help, she finds herself in the care of the lowly Porgy, starting an unlikely romance set against the tumultuous civil rights era.
“I’ve been dreaming of directing Porgy and Bess for almost 30 years,” said Mr. Fox. “I’ve always loved the music, which is American songwriting at its greatest, but it always seemed so daunting to pull off. With the underwriting of our very generous sponsors, we were able to finally bring a production to fruition. With civil rights at the forefront of the national conversation, this seems to be an especially good time to revisit the musical.”
Mr. Toney tackles the daunting task of arranging the Gershwins’ beloved score for a jazz quintet. His impressive career includes numerous successful original compositions and solo recordings, as well as performances with legendary artists such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, and Isaac Hayes. His awards and achievements include two Grammy nominations, three RIAA Gold Record awards, a NAACP Image Award, and a National Endowment For the Arts Fellowship Grant.
Porgy and Bess features NAACP Award-nominee Karole Foreman in the role of Bess, who returns to the ETC stage following her critically acclaimed performances in Sweeney Todd and Intimate Apparel. NAACP Award-winning and Ovation Award-nominated Elijah Rock makes his ETC debut as Porgy, with an impressive career that includes a recurring guest starring role on Showtime’s “Masters of Sex,” and the upcoming release of “Gershwin for my Soul,” a contemporary adaptation of Gershwin hits produced by Mr. Toney.
The production’s tremendous supporting cast includes Dawnn Lewis, playing the role of Serena. Ms. Lewis starred in NBC’s “A Different World,” for which she also wrote the show’s theme song. Her other work includes roles in the current TNT series “Major Crimes,” as well as in the films I’m Gonna Get you Sucka and Dreamgirls. She was also the original star of Sister Act The Musical. Joining the cast are K.B. Solomon, Basso Profundo with Washington National Opera, New York City Opera, and Seattle Opera, as Crown, and Frank Lawson as Sportin’ Life, who has starred in the world tour of Rent, and has been featured in productions of Hair, Memphis, and The Who's Tommy.
The cast includes returning actors Peggy Blow as Mariah, Philip Brandon as Mingo, and Brian Harwell as the Detective. Rounding out the cast are Davon Williams as Jake, Ashley Lynette Brown as his young wife Clara, Aaron Braxton as Robbins, LeSean Lewis as Fisherman, Constance Jewell Lopez as Strawberry Woman, and Sean O’Shea as Policeman.
The design team includes Choreographer Jeffrey Polk, Scenic Designer Frederica Nascimento, Costume Designer Karen Perry, Lighting Designer John A. Garofalo, and Fight Director Kenneth Merckx.
The career of songwriting brothers George and Ira Gershwin is the stuff of stage and music legend. Their catalogue includes the Broadway hits Crazy for You, An American in Paris, Strike up the Band, Lady Be Good!, and perhaps their most famous collaborative work, Porgy and Bess. Their remarkable songwriting catalogue includes mainstays of American musical repertoire such as “I Got Rhythm,” “Summertime,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “They Can’t Take that Away from Me.” Tragically, the Gershwin Brothers’ partnership was cut short by George’s sudden death from a brain tumor at the age of 38. Despite their impressive resume of musical hits, the Gershwins’ greatest achievement may have been to vastly increase the popularity of and respect for musical comedy as an art form in America.
ETC’s 2016-17 Season has been generously sponsored by The Stephen and Carla Hahn Foundation. This production of Porgy and Bess is sponsored by Sara Miller McCune and Lee Luria, with support from Elaine and Mike Gray, Elaine and Herbert Kendall, Debby and Peter Stalker, and Dana White. Additional support is provided by Eve Bernstein and The Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival.
Founded in 1979, Ensemble Theatre Company is Santa Barbara’s leading professional, resident theatre company. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Jonathan Fox and Managing Director Jill Seltzer, ETC has attracted accomplished performing artists from around the country. Following The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, the 2016-17 Season will continue with Baby Doll, adapted by Emily Mann and Pierre Laville from the film by Tennessee Williams (4/13/17 – 4/30/17) and Syncopation by Allan Knee (6/8/17 – 6/25/17).
Performances of Porgy and Bess run Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00 pm, with a Saturday 4:00 pm matinee performance on February 18, and a Tuesday 7:00 pm show on February 13. Youth tickets are available for patrons aged 29-and-under for only $20.00 each. Single tickets are available through the ETC box office at (805) 965-5400, or online at etcsb.org. For group sales information, please call (805) 965-5400. The New Vic is located at 33 W. Victoria Street, Santa Barbara CA, 93101.
WHAT: The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
AUTHOR: Composed by George Gershwin. Libretto by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin. Musical Score Adapted by Diedre L. Murray. Music Direction, Additional Arrangements and Orchestrations by Kevin Toney
DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Fox
THEATRE: The New Vic, 33 West Victoria Street
DATES: February 9 – 26, 2017
DESCRIPTION: Ensemble Theatre Company’s 2016-17 Season continues with a bold jazz interpretation of the great American musical Porgy and Bess, composed by George Gershwin, with a libretto by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin. Adapted for the Broadway stage by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog, Father Comes Home from the Wars), Porgy and Bess tells the tragic story of the love between a crippled beggar and a beautiful yet broken former cocaine addict and prostitute. Working with a live jazz ensemble, the musical features beloved songs, including “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”