A silvery-bearded Norm Lewis gives Porgy a smooth baritone and a good-natured presence. If the show seems to be more about Bess than Porgy, Lewis sturdily lends McDonald a great deal of loving support.
The burly Phillip Boykin looks dangerous as the brutish Crown and sings with muscular force. The role of the feisty Catfish Row busybody Mariah has been bolstered with comedy bits formerly served by other characters and NaTasha Yvette Williams makes the sassiest most of it. David Alan Grier’s prosperous-looking Sporting Life lopes around with an air more cheerful than sinister. Nikki Renee Daniels offers a plaintive “Summertime.” Christopher Innvar brusquely depicts the white detective.
The rest of the 25-member company sings well and moves easily through Paulus’ fleet and mildly stylized staging. Their wardrobe designed by ESosa is nicely shabby. The choreography by Ronald K. Brown at times suggests tribal rituals and gives Bess a happy chance to kick up her heels during the picnic scene.
Since this is Broadway, after all, some viewers might desire a grander production than this modest-looking attraction. Designer Riccardo Hernandez’s setting for Catfish Row is a sketchy construct of peeling walls and skeletal edges that fluently accommodates the interior scenes and becomes Kittiwah Island with the flick of a big blue drape. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting colorfully enhances the show’s changing moods.
So expect a handsomely-performed “Porgy and Bess” that’s true to its roots and provides both a memorable star turn by Audra McDonald and a solid account of an American musical masterpiece.
“Porgy and Bess” continues through July 8 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 47th St., New York. Call (877) 250-2929 or visit www.porgyandbessonbroadway.com.