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Arts and Entertainment

‘Porgy & Bess’ is a timeless love story
An inside look at the show from an actor’s perspective
Published Tuesday, July 1, 2014 12:30 pm
by Michaela L. Duckett

Alvin Crawford and the cast of "The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess." The Broadway musical's national tour closes in Charlotte with shows July 15-20 at the Belk Theater. (PHOTO/MICHAEL J. LUTCH)

One of the first depictions African-American life in opera, “Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess the Broadway Musical” is based on the novel “Porgy” written by DuBose Heyward in the 1920s and a subsequent play of the same title, which Heyward co-wrote with his wife Dorothy Heyward.

It’s a classic American love story that takes place in the 1930s. When we meet Porgy and Bess, it’s a Saturday night in Charleston’s fabled Catfish Row. A craps game is underway. The beautiful Bess walks in with her man Crown, a quarrelsome brutish man who doesn’t treat her kindly.

Mix in a natural disaster, dose of forbidden love, some gallons of liquor and a few sprinkles of “happy dust” and watch the drama ensue in this beloved musical.

Accompanied by a grand 23-piece orchestra, this re-envisioned Broadway production is set to the music of George Gershwin and includes such legendary songs as “Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and “I Got Plenty o’ Nothing.”

“Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” hit the road in November and will wrap its national tour in Charlotte with performances July 15-20 at the Belk Theater.

In the following Q&A, Alvin Crawford who plays Crown gives us the inside scoop on what makes the show so special that it still remains relevant nearly 80 years after it was first produced.

The Charlotte Post: How do you describe the two main characters, Porgy and Bess?

Alvin Crawford: Porgy is a resident of Catfish Row. He’s a cripple and a beggar. And Bess, which is Crown’s girlfriend, can be described as a ‘wanton woman of the night.’

TPC: How would you describe your character Crown? What kind of man is he?

AC: Crown might known as the villain in the show. He loves Bess wholly, however, he is kind of a big brute. Both Bess and Crown are good-time people. They love to party, and they party hard… He’s ‘that guy.’

TPC: Do you personally share any similarities with Crown? Are there any ways you two are alike?

AC: Ooh, I’ve never been asked that question. I guess we’re both a success. We’re both big guys. But I think we both love hard. Crown loves Bess completely and wholly. When she doesn’t return his affection when he comes back, he can’t understand it. He doesn’t know how to deal with it, so he fights his way through.

TPC: What was the most challenging aspect of playing this character?

AC: The most challenging aspect, I would say, is getting to that dark place. He is a person that thinks with his fist first. I’m the youngest of six kids, and I have one brother and four older sisters. So I grew up treating women very well, and women are obviously very important to me. But Crown, however, is not that person. So I had to kind of get over all that and throw Bess around… Crown could be as brutal as possible.

TPC: What is your favorite scene from “Porgy and Bess?”

AC: My favorite scenes are my scenes (laughter). But one of my favorite scenes is when Crown comes back. The other scene is “I Love you Porgy,” which is also in the second act. It is where Porgy and Bess finally come together and say they want to be together… I think the music is gorgeous, and it tells such a simple story. It’s one of the scenes that people really relate to.

There are only two people who used the words “I love you” in our show. That’s Jake the Fisherman and Bess. I think that [takes] courage to say, “I love you, Porgy. Don’t let him [Crown] take me.” There is a toxic connection that Crown and Bess have to each other. We all know that couple who are toxic and shouldn’t be together… But for whatever reasons, they stay together. And that’s what Bess tries to explain to Porgy… She loves him, but has this thing with Crown and can’t get out of it. People relate to that.

TPC: What other aspects or storylines in the show do people seem to relate to?

AC: At the base of the show, on top of the gorgeous music by Gershwin, is the power of love. It’s created this power in both Porgy and Bess to find this courage to love.

Porgy is a beggar and a cripple on the street. He lives in a hollow on Catfish Row and has never been in love. As a result of this extraordinary event that happens in Act One, it causes the strongest guy in the village [Crown] to leave, he actually finds the courage to believe in love and then fights for love.

It’s a story of a beggar and cripple on the street that has the prettiest girl in town. He fights the biggest, loudest and strongest dude in town because she says she loves him. You put that on with some of the most gorgeous music you will ever hear, and you’ve got a very powerful story, and a powerful experience. I think that’s what people have been relating to while we’re on tour. The story is about 80 years old, but the power of love is always relevant.

For tickets or more information about “Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” visit www.porgyandbessthemusical.com.



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