Porgy and Bess

Broadway Revival (1976)

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Trivia & History

This production originated at the Houston Grand Opera.

When the production opened, the roles of Porgy, Bess, Serena and Crown were played by alternating performers sharing the roles over the course of each week. The roles of Porgy and Bess were each divided among three performers, while the roles of Serena and Crown were each divided among two performers.

As the run continued, alternates were added for several other roles. Betty D. Lane (who changed her professional name to Betty Lane during the run) had played Clara at all eight performances each week originally, but she later played five performances a week. Three other cast members alternated in the three other performances. Since one of those cast members usually played Lily, there was a one-performance-a-week alternate for Lily.

When Carol Brice, who played Maria, left the cast, the role was divided between two women, each playing four performances a week. It may be that before Ms. Brice left the cast, there was already an alternate taking some performances, but as far as we know, when the production opened she played all eight performances each week.

At a certain point in the run, the role of Jake was divided by two men. We don't know if this started while the performer who played the role on opening night of this production, Curtis Dickson, was still in the cast, or if it started after he left.

At a certain point in the run, a third performer was added to the rotation for Serena. This was Shirley Baines, who usually played Annie. Ms. Baines performed the role once a week. When she performed Serena, another cast member played Annie. So that role also eventually had an alternate.

The production was originally scheduled to run only through Oct. 17, 1976. Within several days of the opening on Sept. 25, the run was extended another three weeks, through Nov. 7. Further extensions did not seem possible at the time, at least not without a move to a theatre other than the Uris (where the production opened), as the Uris already had bookings for The Chinese Acrobats of Taiwan and The Dutch National Ballet scheduled in November.

Starting on Oct. 19, with the first performances after the originally scheduled closing date, the performance schedule changed to include Wednesday matinees for the first time. The original schedule had been Tuesday through Sunday evenings, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. The new schedule eliminated the Sunday evening performance.

By that time, the run had been extended again, to Dec. 5. It seems that at first a move to the Mark Hellinger Theatre had been considered but when The Chinese Acrobats of Taiwan and The Dutch National Ballet agreed to instead perform at the Minskoff Theatre, it became possible for the production to remain at the Uris, at least through Dec. 5. An extension at the Uris beyond that date, however, seemed unlikely as the theatre was booked, starting Dec. 7, by a two-week engagment of Bing Crosby on Broadway, which was to be immediately followed by a two-week engagement of Barry Manilow on Broadway. 

It was not until around Nov. 21 that an extension beyond Dec. 5 was announced. Of necessity, the extension would involve a move. The new theatre would be the Mark Hellinger, where the production would begin performances on Dec. 7. This run would be open-ended.

By Monday, Dec. 20, however, it was announced that the open-ended run would end on Jan. 9. Perhaps the delay in finalizing plans for a move, during which time no tickets could be sold beyond Dec. 5, dealt too much of blow to the advance sale. Or perhaps the production had simply run out of sufficient audience, especially given the high weekly running costs.

Some sources incorrectly give the date of the first preview as Monday, Sept. 20, 1976, and the total number of previews as seven. Previews actually started on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1976, and there were five previews, not seven.

The production originally played a Tuesday through Sunday schedule, playing performances each evening with matinees on Saturday and Sunday and no matinee on Wednesday. The production opened Saturday evening, Sept. 25. Preview performances were on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, and a matinee on Saturday.

The production employed 44 musicians in the orchestra pit. When the production had to move from the Uris Theatre to the Mark Hellinger, it was difficult to fit all the musicians in the pit.

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