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 108 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)
Gordon Hawkins ...
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 »


Crown: [singing to Bess] You're telling me that you'd rather have that cripple than Crown?
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Overture and Jasbo Brown Blues
Music by George Gershwin
Piano solo by Wayne Marshall
Wordless chant sung by chorus
Played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Simon Rattle
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User Reviews

Guess I is a Nunn fan now
3 October 2005 | by (Birmingham, England) – See all my reviews

This keeps happening to me. I re-watch an opera that I had previously found worthless with the intention of writing one of my sarcastic reviews for IMDb: then I find myself totally captivated by its magic. The latest work to have this effect on me is Trevor Nunn's 1993 production of Porgy and Bess with Glyndebourne Opera. What is more amazing is that the singing is dubbed: something that I detest in opera films.

As a 14-year-old, I enjoyed the 1959 film which, essentially, did Porgy as a Hollywood musical. In the ensuing 45 years or so I have become more critical about the idea of two white, Jewish men writing a black opera, although a similar criticism could be levelled at practically the entire 20th century output of American popular song.

That 1959 film had spoken dialogue and big tunes such as "Summertime" and "It ain't necessarily so". I say tunes deliberately: they do not even qualify as songs because their structure is completely strophic. What is so striking about this operatic version is the musical complexity of the recitative and arioso; the Gershwins punctuated this complex music with the simple numbers in order to emphasise its folk and blues roots. So, in dismissing Porgy and Bess as just a collection of big tunes, I was ignoring most of the best music. Trevor Nunn's 1993 film uses the recording of the 1989 Glyndebourne production. In the intervening four years, Bruce Hubbard had died and several other cast members were not available. It is not surprising, therefore, that some of the performers in this film seem to have only a passing acquaintance with the lyrics they are supposed to be singing. This would normally make me chew the carpet with rage but the reason why it does not bother me is that much of the important music in this work is given to the chorus. I particularly enjoyed "Oh Doctor Jesus" and "O dere's somebody knockin' at de do'". The Glyndebourne chorus is superb even though it seems likely that the actors we see on stage mouthing their words are not the people who did the singing four years earlier.

While the black characters have sung recitatives, the white characters only have parlando or spoken parts. If you have seen 'Jerry Springer the Opera' you will know how this works. It emphasizes the point that the black and white characters seem to inhabit a different world, physically and mentally.

Willard White is very impressive vocally as Porgy and gives the character great dignity. Cynthia Haymon is a glamorous Bess and gives a moving rendition of "I loves you Porgy". As Sportin' Life, Damon Evans effectively erases one's memory of Sammy Davis Jr's performance. Harolyn Blackwell singing, but not acting the part of Clara does a haunting 'Summertime' and Cynthia Clarey as Serena does a beautiful 'My man's gone now'. Simon Rattle's account of the score is an exciting roller-coaster ride. The biggest credit must go to Trevor Nunn for the clarity and intelligence of this production. He even manages to stage a realistic crap game. There has always been some doubt over whether this piece works as an opera, Trevor Nunn proves emphatically that it does.

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