American Playhouse: Season 11, Episode 3

Porgy and Bess (6 Oct. 1993)

TV Episode  |   |  Comedy, Drama
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 111 users  
Reviews: 7 user | 4 critic

The story of a disabled beggar in Charleston,S.C. who falls in love with a prostitute, this is the first filmed version of Gershwin's opera which uses Gershwin's own orchestrations and ... See full summary »



(libretto), (based on the play by), 3 more credits »
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Title: Porgy and Bess (06 Oct 1993)

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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Willard White ...
Cynthia Haymon ...
Gregg Baker ...
Cynthia Clarey ...
Marietta Simpson ...
Paula Ingram ...
Harolyn Blackwell ...
Clara (singing voice)
Bruce Hubbard ...
Jake (singing voice)
Barrington Coleman ...
D. Alonzo Washington ...
Johnny Worthy ...
Robbins (singing voice)
Curtis Watson ...
Mervin Wallace ...


The story of a disabled beggar in Charleston,S.C. who falls in love with a prostitute, this is the first filmed version of Gershwin's opera which uses Gershwin's own orchestrations and practically all of the music, with only one major cut. Written by Albert Sanchez Moreno

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Comedy | Drama

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Release Date:

6 October 1993 (USA)  »

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Bass-baritone Bruce Hubbard appeared as Jake in the Glyndebourne stage production on which this television production is based, but he died suddenly in 1991, so he was not able to appear in this version. Because the original recording of the Glyndebourne production was used, however (instead of having the cast make an all-new recording for the telecast), Hubbard's singing voice is still heard as Jake, while Gordon Hawkins plays the role onscreen and lip-synchs to Hubbard's voice. See more »


Porgy: [singing] Bess, you is my woman now, You is, you is, And you must sing and dance and play for two instead of one. Want no wrinkle on your brow, No-how, Because the sorrow of the past is all done done, Oh, Bess, my Bess, The real happiness is just begun.
See more »


Closing Credits Music
from the Prelude to Act III, Scene 3 of the opera
Music by George Gershwin
Played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Simon Rattle
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User Reviews

At last a faithful, well-done version of Gershwin's classic comes to video
23 February 1999 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

It didn't happen for a VERY long time, due to the pickiness of the Gershwin estate in sanctioning an official TV broadcast and home video of this masterpiece. The widescreen 1959 film, which the Gershwin family hated, still has not come to video. And the Metropolitan Opera version never made it to "Live From The Met".But at last we can see "Porgy and Bess" at home instead of just hearing it on radio or recordings. Thankfully, the music is presented in pretty much its original form (although a few lines have been changed, notably Porgy's "I must go" instead of "Bring my goat", due to the fact that Porgy uses crutches in this version rather than being pulled around on a cart by a goat). The original recitatives (unrhymed singing) are used in between the "big numbers" rather than being turned into spoken dialogue as in the 1959 film. While this may try the patience of those not into opera, it adds greatly to the power of the work. And Gershwin's original orchestrations are used, rather than being slicked up by an arranger, as in the 1959 film. The words are not difficult to understand if you listen attentively.

This version was made under very odd circumstances, however. It is the Glyndebourne production done in England in the late 1980's with American singers. However, rather than having his singers record the opera afresh so that they could lip-synch to their own singing, director Trevor Nunn used the already existing, highly acclaimed 1989 recording of that version for the soundtrack. Four members of the supporting cast were unable to repeat their roles on screen, so we hear THEIR voices while the roles are played by other singers! The rest of the cast does its own singing.

This shouldn't deter you from seeing this excellent production, though. Trevor Nunn, former director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, again proves his skill by getting these singers to give performances as good as any given by non-singing actors. The ambiance of Charleston, South Carolina is very effectively and far more realistically suggested than in the glamorized, prettied-up Samuel Goldwyn 1959 film. The only false touch is a near-disastrous decision by Nunn to provide a ridiculously symbolic,almost offensive "Big Moment" in the final, heartbreaking aria,"Oh, Lawd, I'm On My Way". Otherwise, this is a beautifully sung, definitive "Porgy and Bess".

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