The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
photo courtesy of the Justice Theater Project
Through Sunday, June 25
Umstead Park United Church of Christ, Raleigh
When a lead singer is forced to bow out of a performance due to a family medical emergency, we try to catch the show at a different time. But in regional theater’s busiest June in years, there was no other option for Justice Theater Project’s version of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
The good news is that understudy Juan Isler blossomed in the role of Porgy, the good man of Catfish Row, during last Sunday’s matinee. His mellow baritone evoked tender sentiments in “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” and a jocund take on “I Got Plenty of Nothing.”
Isler's contributions seamlessly fit in with the top-rate talents of the operatic Connie McCoy (as Clara) in the haunting opening number, “Summertime;” the luminous, vividly emotional Terra Hodge (as Serena); and Danielle J. Long (as Bess), whose smoky soprano enriched numbers like “I Loves You Porgy.”
Unfortunately, the show’s six-piece band repeatedly had trouble keeping up with them. This is likely the result of a late change in musical direction; Ronzel Bell took over the week before opening. Ragged work during the first act’s overture was the first sign of troubles to come in numbers including “Leaving for the Promised Land,” “There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon,” and others.
Still, Sheldon Mba and Aya Wallace’s choreography popped on a richly textured two-story shantytown set of tin roofs, second-hand wood, and Spanish moss. Under the direction of Deb Royals, riveting actor Chase Rivers made the villainous Crown nearly as large as the hurricane he braves in the second act. And JaJuan Cofield gave a slick, stylish menace to gambler Sporting Life, who seduces Bess into shunning a virtuous life she’s found. The voices were strong, but the band still clearly needed more rehearsal to reach the level of achievement in the rest of this promising production.