Suzan-Lori Parks, Diane Paulus, Deidre Murray : Three Women Collaborating

October 9, 2014

It won the 2012 Tony for the best musical revival, but the New York Times didn’t much like it,  missing Gershwin’s full operatic scores in this “thinned-out” and “heavily-cut” version.

Having no deep connection to the original, I don’t missing anything in this way.  And I’d bet my kind of ignorance, or half ignorance, is not uncommon.   So, rather than invoking Gershwin as the sole and default reference point, it might be helpful to multiply those reference points, thinking about the Parks/Paulus/Murray Porgy and Bess not only along with adaptations by others but also along with prior adaptations by these three.

The Miles Davis/Gil Evans jazz orchestration of Porgy and Bess — the second in a series of collaboration — was seen in just in this light by Bill Kirchner, as one of the three most important musical partnerships of the twentieth century (the other two were Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn and Frank Sinatra/Nelson Riddle).   The Parks/Paulus/Murray partnership probably isn’t in that company yet, so it might be more helpful to try a different tack, thinking of their current effort as a convergence of prior histories — what Parks has already done with Hawthorne in Red Letter Plays and Faulkner in Getting Mother’s Body, and what Paulus has already done with James Baldwin’s novel, Another Country, and Paul Simon and Derek Walcott’s musical, The Capeman.

If nothing else, collaborations tell us to loosen up on what counts as “context.”

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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