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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 9:13 pm | Fair 56º

 
 
 
 

Ensemble Theatre Brings ‘60s Jazz to Santa Barbara in ‘Porgy and Bess’

Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) at the New Vic brings a bold jazz interpretation of the Tony Award-winning musical 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.

Directed by Jonathan Fox, ETC’s artistic director, the production runs Feb. 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 onstage jazz ensemble.
 
ETC’s production, set in the 1960s in a poor neighborhood of Charleston, S.C., follows the tragic story of the love between Porgy, a crippled beggar, and Bess, a beautiful yet broken former cocaine addict and prostitute.

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 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.”
 
Toney tackles the task of arranging the Gershwins’ score for a jazz quintet. His career includes numerous successful original compositions and solo recordings, as well as performances with artists such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra and Isaac Hayes.

Toney has won 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 as Bess, who returns to the ETC stage following critically acclaimed performances in Sweeney Todd and Intimate Apparel.

NAACP Award-winning and Ovation Award-nominated Elijah Rock makes his ETC debut as Porgy. His career includes a recurring guest-star role on Showtime’s Masters of Sex, and the upcoming release of Gershwin for my Soul, a contemporary adaptation of Gershwin hits produced by Toney.
 
The supporting cast includes: Dawnn Lewis, as Serena, who starred in NBC’s A Different World, for which she wrote the show’s theme song; K.B. Solomon, as Crown, basso profundo with Washington National, New York City and Seattle operas; and Frank Lawson as Sportin’ Life, who has starred in the world tour of Rent.

Other cast members are: Peggy Blow as Mariah, Philip Brandon as Mingo, Brian Harwell as the detective, Davon Williams as Jake, Ashley Lynette Brown as Clara, Aaron Braxton as Robbins, LeSean Lewis as Fisherman, Constance Jewell Lopezas as Strawberry Woman, and Sean O’Shea as Policeman.

ETC’s 2016-17 season has been 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.

Performances of Porgy and Bess run at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; with a 4 p.m. Saturday matinee Feb. 18, and a 7 p.m. show on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

Youth tickets are available for patrons ages 29 and under for $20. Single tickets are available through the ETC box office at 965-5400, or online at etcsb.org. For group sales information, call 965-5400. The New Vic is at 33 W. Victoria St., Santa Barbara.

— Charlie Rohlfs for Ensemble Theatre Company.

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