Nunn plans 'Porgy and Bess' created with new black talent

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The Independent Culture

Trevor Nunn, the acclaimed director of a £3m adaptation of Porgy and Bess has said the musical, focusing on the lives of a black American community, could not have been staged in the West End a decade ago, because of the lack of diversity in theatre.

He said the limited pool of black performers in London would have made the adapted version of George Gershwin's opera, "unlikely" to have been staged, compared to the wealth of diversity in the industry now.

Nunn's two-hour musical, opening at the Savoy Theatre in November, and adapted by the composer, Gareth Valentine, will feature an ensemble of black singers in its 40-strong cast.

"The increase of available talent among the black community in the auditions alone has been thrilling, that is, the number of people who are able to dance and sing and act," he said. "It's wonderful that it's changing."

The innumerable versions of the opera since it was composed in the 1930s have always relied on a black singing cast, as Gershwin, himself white, stipulated.

Set at the beginning of the 20th century, the original, four-hour opera was adapted from the novel, Porgy. The author, Dubose Heyward, helped Gershwin write the lyrics, including jazz classics "Summertime" and "It Ain't Necessarily So". The show had its premiere in New York in 1935 and is seen as a landmark of American music history. In 1959, it was made into a film starring Sidney Poitier and Sammy Davis Jr.

The story is about the people of a fishing village in Charleston, South Carolina, where a crippled beggar, Porgy, falls in love with Bess, a woman of dubious reputation who tries to break free from a brutish lover.

Among one of the cuts is the "Buzzard Song", at the request of the Gershwin Estate, made up of 15 family descendants of George and Ira. "George felt the song was the one that least worked and Ira always worked to get rid of it," Nunn said.

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