After almost three decades,“Porgy and Bess” is coming back to the Upper West Side.
Alan Gershwin, born Albert Schneider, bore an astonishing resemblance to George Gershwin.
“Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921,” the Broadway show starring Audra McDonald, opened on April 28. Its book by George C. Wolfe purports to explain how the African-American songwriter Eubie Blake encountered difficulties along the way to producing a show, “Shuffle Along,” nearly a century ago. One of the key plot points of the new “Shuffle Along” is that the American Jewish composer George Gershwin supposedly came to see the original show three times to hear the 25-year-old African-American oboist, arranger, and aspiring composer William Grant Still warm up in the orchestra pit before the performance. Captivated by four notes improvised by Still, the wealthy white composer Gershwin lifted them to use in his hit song “I Got Rhythm.” The reality is rather different.
‘Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin’ is a jewel of an album, and it got this music fan thinking: Who else belongs on an All-Time Gershwin Dream Team?
Virgil Thomson, subject of a new Library of America series, produced admirable works. But his offensive statements about Aaron Copland and George Gershwin are cause for scrutiny.
Michael Feinstein was lucky enough to work for George and Ira Gershwin. He talks about the famed brothers and why they hoped ‘Porgy and Bess’ would change the world of theater.
American pianist Oscar Levant (1906–1972), whose fortieth Yahrzeit was on August 14, was renowned, perhaps distractingly so, for his wit steeped in psychic pain. Born in Pittsburgh in 1906 to an Orthodox Jewish family originally from Russia, Levant was tormented by psychiatric ailments, requiring hospitalizations and medication which he made light of on radio, TV, and in films. The screenwriter Betty Comden (born Basya Cohen), who co-authored some of Levant’s musical classics, including “The Barkleys of Broadway” and “The Band Wagon,” once told me that on the set of the latter film, she made the mistake of asking Levant how his mother was. Levant retorted furiously, “Don’t mention that woman!” and refused to speak to Comden for weeks.
The avowed intention of director Diane Paulus and writer Suzan-Lori Parks in “reimagining” “Porgy and Bess” was to invest the opera with a sensibility that would reach modern audiences and “fully realize the characters.” That is, they hoped to achieve a theatrical authenticity they believed was missing in the original.
Classical music events both before and after Purim (on March 8) focus on dialogues redolent of Yiddishkeit, as New Yorkers and others will discover. On February 10 at Weill Recital Hall pianist Lia Jensen-Abbott will perform Fanny Mendelssohn’s “The Year,” a work inspired by the composer’s relationship with her brother Felix. The Hungarian Jewish composer György Ligeti described his 1951 “Sonata for solo cello” as: “[a] dialogue. Because it’s like two people, a man and a woman, conversing.” Ligeti’s sonata converses on February 10 at Bargemusic with cellist Nicholas Canellakis.
There is exactly one perceptive sentence of dialogue in “Chasing Heaven,” now playing through August 26 at CSV Flamboyan as part of the 15th Annual New York International Fringe Festival. It comes rather late in the proceedings, when the two main characters, in grudging collaboration on a rewrite of a very familiar-sounding piece of iconic theater, come to an impasse over whether or not to cut a villain dubbed Trout Bait from the revised version. One argues that Trout Bait is a racist and offensive portrayal of Blackness: a lying, gambling boozer. The other points out that, while Trout Bait may be all of those things, the show can’t afford to lose him because “he moves the work along and he gets to sing a lot of great stuff.”