THE BOOK SHELF: "On My Way: The Untold Story of Rouben Mamoulian, George Gershwin, and Porgy and Bess"

By Steven Suskin
11 Aug 2013

The net result is that readers who are reasonably familiar with the material will get a much clearer picture of just what the original Porgy and Bess was like. Mind you, this was the only Porgy and Bess ever seen by Gershwin (who died in 1937) or Heyward (who died in 1940).

Horowitz also presents us a telling description of Porgy's banjo song, "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'". Gershwin had given Mamoulian a note: "entire stage affected by rhythm of Porgy's song." This Mamoulian did, complete with actors using dishrags, hammers, beating rugs, and more. During the final refrain, where the full chorus joins in, Mamoulian had empty rocking chairs pulled in rhythm, by strings and soap bubbles coming out of the upper windows.

Hal Prince once told me that he saw the original Porgy and Bess at the Alvin — it closed three days before his eighth birthday — and he was thoroughly overwhelmed with wonder. Hal has created some breathtaking stage pictures himself, in his time. One has to wonder if Mamoulian's empty rocking chairs remain imprinted on his theatrical memory.



(Steven Suskin is author of the updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as “The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations,” “Second Act Trouble,” "A Must See," the "Broadway Yearbook" series, and the “Opening Night on Broadway” books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)