Sondheim's Beef with A.R.T.'s 'Porgy and Bess'
American Repertory Theater’s revamped production of Porgy and Bess starts on August 17, and plans are already in the works to ship it down from Cambridge to Broadway this winter. But the reinterpretation of the opera — which introduces new scenes, invents biographical traits in the characters, and even revamps the ending to make it more hopeful — is raising the ire of Tony-award winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
After New York Times theater critic Patrick Healy reported on A.R.T.’s efforts to make the make the iconic opera more “widely accessible and artistically fresh,” the Times’ mailbox got this missive, which objects to director Diane Paulus’s efforts to re-invent the production:
Ms. Paulus says that in the opera you don’t get to know the characters as people. Putting it kindly, that’s willful ignorance. These characters are as vivid as any ever created for the musical theater, as has been proved over and over in productions that may have cut some dialogue and musical passages but didn’t rewrite and distort them.
And that’s just the beginning. Read the whole thing to see Sondheim’s complete smackdown, which naturally is quite operatic itself. If there’s one thing we can always count on, it’s drama between theater-folk.