At both the Broadway version of Porgy and Bess and at its touring production, now at the Ahmanson, purists have been rankled by how fast the songs are, compared to those in the more operatic versions they knew in their youth.
During the production's planning stages, Stephen Sondheim famously gave voice to the purists, criticizing plans to streamline the show, which was written by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose and Dorothy Heyward. But this much-tightened Porgy, with a book adaptation by Suzan-Lori Parks, score adaptation by Diedre L. Murray and direction by Diane Paulus – who recently made Time's list of the 100 most influential people on the planet – went on to win the 2012 Tony Award for Best Revival, beating out the stellar production of Follies that dazzled Ahmanson audiences two years ago.
In the eyes of this Porgy first-timer, Paulus' production doesn't need to be any slower. There are some well-executed plot turns but not enough to justify much more than the 2 1/2-hour run time.
At the Ahmanson run, the actors who play the title roles (Nathaniel Stampley and Alicia Hall Moran) don't have the effortless likability of the Broadway version's Norm Lewis or the verve of its Audra McDonald. And it's harder to see why Bess is occasionally attracted to Crown, Porgy's more macho romantic rival.
But the show is as convincing and moving of an argument I've seen for the ultimate triumph of pure goodness over a world of base temptations, and for the dignity of an ordinary life, no matter how destitute. The traditionalists may weep, but a more drawn-out version would not have made such an impact.
Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; through June 1. (213) 628.2772, centertheatregroup.org.
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