I saw the very first public performance of The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess, and despite some reservations about the revisions, I was won over by the show, and particularly by the performers. I’ve had the privilege of seeing Audra McDonald live a few times — in concert, in shows, and even in conversation — and she’s never failed to thrill me. In my estimation, she is our generation’s Broadway legend, worthy of her spot in the pantheon alongside Merman, Martin, and very few others. The rest of the cast was excellent as well, particularly Phillip Boykin as Crown, who’s got me rooting for him come Tony night.
So, despite having seriously curtailed my purchasing of cast recordings (thanks, Spotify), I pre-ordered the new recording of Porgy & Bess the day PS Classics started taking orders. (And, to be honest, I love PS Classics so much that I have similarly pre-ordered their forthcoming albums of Merrily We Roll Along and the lost Gershwin show Sweet Little Devil.) My loyalty was rewarded by receiving the album before it hits stores.
I’ve listened to the entire two-disc recording a few times and I’m not sure I have a fully-formed opinion yet. On the one hand, I don’t think any of the leads thrill me quite as much on disc as they did in the theater (although I’m not sure any recording could possibly be as thrilling as some of those theatrical moments were). On the other hand, some of the things that bothered me about the revisions to the score bother me less on the album, and I’m not sure if that’s because further work was done on the show after I saw it, or under Tommy Krasker’s masterful guidance it sits better on disc. I definitely want to compare certain elements to a recording of the original orchestration to see if my criticisms are of Gershwin’s work or Diedre L. Murray’s adaptation (and William David Brohn & Christopher Jahnke’s orchestrations).
But in the meanwhile, I am totally taken with Joshua Henry’s performance as Jake. He gets one of the best-known numbers in the shows, “A Woman is a Sometime Thing,” but this track, “It Takes a Long Pull To Get There” is my favorite. (It was a favorite moment in the theater as well.) It’s probably not a song you’ve heard before if you’re not a Porgy & Bess scholar, but it captures the best of the non-operatic elements of the score. Plus, as you may have noticed, I’m a sucker for good vocal arranging, and the quartet of fishermen backing him up don’t disappoint. Purists probably hate the overuse of harmonica in the band — it’s cliche shorthand for “folksy” — but not knowing what the song is “supposed to” sound like, it’s fine by me.