Skylight to premiere new production of the Gershwins’ PORGY AND BESS


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Milwaukee, WI Skylight Music Theatre will mount a new production of the Gershwin masterpiece Porgy and Bess May 17 through June 9  in the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center (158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee WI).

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess has been a groundbreaking work ever since its premiere in 1935. With the largest all-black cast ever seen on an American stage up until that point, Porgy and Bess ignited social and racial change as the national tour of 1936 made its way across the country. Most notably when the tour stopped at the still segregated National Theatre in Washington D.C., in which non-white patrons were refused entry. Title role cast members, Todd Duncan and Anne Brown, refused to perform until the theatre relented and allowed whites and blacks to sit side-by-side for the first time in the theatre’s history.

In 1943, in the midst of World War II, Porgy and Bess premiered overseas in Copenhagen at the Danish Royal Opera. The Nazis immediately tried to close the production, but with heavy security the show became a symbol of resistance to the Nazi occupation of Denmark and sold out numerous performances. Unfortunately, when the Nazis threatened to bomb the theatre the show was finally forced to close.

Prior to the war, in 1942, the work was streamlined and restaged. There were reductions in cast and orchestra which resulted in the first musical theatre version. Since then The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess has also had major revivals in 1952, 1976, 1983 and most recently in 2012. In 1959 MGM released a film version of the musical starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge.

 “Porgy & Bess is an iconic opera that many people consider to be George Gershwin’s masterpiece, and I am certainly one of those people. But the exciting thing about Skylight’s production of this classic American folk opera is the fact that we are able to attempt something rarely seen in other opera house revivals. In the intimacy of the Cabot Theatre, we will create a chamber opera that will allow these characters, the denizens of Catfish Row, to rediscover their journey, which in turn will put them in charge of their own story. In this process, deeper truths will emerge to shine a new light on Porgy & Bess as we simplify, strip away and empower these characters, while at the same time embracing this extraordinarily gorgeous score,” says Artistic Director Bill Theisen.

In addition to staging adjustments to accommodate the Cabot Theatre space, production Music Director Richard Carsey (Skylight Artistic Director from 1995 to 2005) gained permission from the Gershwin Estate to create completely new orchestrations for the opera. Using Gershwin’s original orchestration as a guide, Carsey has reduced the 30 piece score to 9.

“In essence, I’m re-assigning material from the original instruments to the instruments we have available. In other cases, I’m completely re-conceiving the orchestral sound,” says Carsey.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess will be the final production for Bill Theisen as Artistic Director. Theisen announced in 2011 that this, the 2012-2013 season would be his last.


By  – George Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin


Stage Director & Choreographer – Bill Theisen
Assistant Director –
Sheri Williams Pannell
Music Director –
Richard Carsey
Designer – Ken Goldstein**
Costume Designer –
Carol Blanchard**
Designer – Annmarie Duggan**
Designer -  Gary Ellis
Manager – Kimberly Ann McCann*
Assistant Stage
Manager – Jennifer Anderson
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association
**Member of United Scenic Artists


Porgy – Jason McKinney
Bess – Kearstin Piper Brown
Bess – Rhea Olivaccé
Serena – Adrienne Danrich
Sporting Life – Anthony P. McGlaun
Crown – Nathaniel Stampley
Clara -  Cecelia Davis
Maria – Sheri Williams Pannell
Lily -  Erica Cochran
Jake  - Bill McMurray
Mingo -  Sean Miller
Robbins  - Shawn Holmes
Peter -  Cameo Hume
Annie -  Cynthia Cobb
Jim  - Jonathan Christopher
Detective – T. Stacy Hicks


Porgy – Bill McMurray
Bess – Erica Cochran
Sporting Life – Sean Miller
Serena – Cynthia Cobb
Crown – Jonathan Christopher


Violin – Joe Ketchum
Cello -  Scott Cook
Flute -  Cindy Solfest
Clarinet – Christian Ellenwood
Trumpet – Tom Schlueter
Trombone – Kyle Samuelson
Bass -  Charles Grosz
Percussion – Michael Lorenz


 Jason McKinney (Porgy) – Milwaukee native, North Carolinian Jason S. McKinney is thrilled to make this production his Milwaukee debut. In his youth as a clarinetist, Jason and a Milwaukee Boys and Girls Club New Orleans Jazz band were invited to open a set at the historic Preservation Hall. A Graduate of Whitefish Bay High School, and The University of NC School of the Arts, his career has led him to perform and premier new works in cathedrals, synagogues, operatic and concert stages all over the world including the White House, and Kennedy center. Jason recently won an award for best actor in his portrayal of “Paul Robeson” in Charlotte NC.

Kearstin Piper Brown (Bess) – Kearstin Piper Brown recently made her role debut as Violetta with Lyric Opera Utah. She sang Musetta with Dayton Opera, Micaëla with Arbor Opera Theater and Clara in Porgy and Bess at Teatro di San Carlo (Italy). In previous seasons, she also performed Euridice in Gluck’s Orpheus with Opera Memphis and Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia with Cincinnati Opera. She has performed her signature role Bess with Dayton Opera, Virginia Opera, the Belarusian Philharmonic Orchestra Minsk, as well as Hamburgische Staatsoper, Semperoper Dresden, Deutsche Oper am Rhein, and Komische Oper Berlin. Upcoming engagements include High Priestess in Aida with Atlanta Symphony.

Rhea Olivaccé (Bess) – Soprano Rhea Olivaccé is known for her “wonderfully warm lyric soprano voice”. She has performed the roles of Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème, both conducted by Martin Katz at University of Michigan Ann Arbor. Other roles at UMAA include La Contessa in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Suzel in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz. She appeared as an Apprentice Artist with Des Moines Metro Opera in 2011 where she covered Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème and Sarasota Opera in 2012. In 2008 she made her international debut in recital at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands as well as her Carnegie Hall recital debut.

Adrienne Danrich (Serena) – The voice of soprano Adrienne Danrich has been described as “fresh liquid-silver” and “meltingly tender in its high, floating vulnerability” by Opera News. Most recently, Ms. Danrich sang the title role in Aïda with Tulsa Opera and Annapolis Opera; Madama Butterfly with the Imperial Symphony Orchestra; Serena in Porgy and Bess with Cincinnati Opera and Dayton Opera; and Sister Rose in Dead Man Walking with Fort Worth Opera; and Micaela in Carmen with San Francisco Opera. Ms. Danrich is a native of St. Louis, and is an alumna of Eastman School of Music and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Anthony P. McGlaun (Sporting Life) – Lyric tenor Anthony P. McGlaun is heralded for his clarity of tone, sensitive musicality and expressive singing. His repertoire encompasses oratorio, lieder, art songs, musical theater and Negro spirituals. Mr. McGlaun’s opera roles include Tamino, Memorino and Ferrando. He is often sought after as a soloist and recitalist. Mr. McGlaun specializes in the music of African American composers and is sought after to perform these works. He has also performed small roles at Michigan Opera Theater and Chicago Lyric Opera. Mr. McGlaun currently splits his time between Chicago and New York as a choral singer as well as a soloist.

 Nathaniel Stampley (Crown) – Nathaniel is a native of Milwaukee and proud graduate of Whitefish Bay High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  West End: The Lion King (Disney UK).  Broadway: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, The Color Purple, The Lion King.  Off-Broadway/Regional: Fiorello!, Lost in the Stars, NY City Center’s Encores!; Pacific Overtures, Chicago Shakespeare Theater; Strike Up the Band, One Touch of Venus, Auditorium Theatre’s Ovations!; Violet, Once on This Island, Big River (Joseph Jefferson Award nomination), Apple Tree Theatre; Show Boat, Sacramento Music Circus; Skylight Opera Theatre’s Harriet: The Woman Called Moses, El Capitan, Girl Crazy, The King and I.

Skylight Music Theatre’s production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is generously sponsored by John Shannon and Jan Serr.














si = Skylight Insights  are an engaging opportunity to learn more about the production. They are presented before every Wednesday and Sunday performance in the Salon.


c = The Cabaret is a free post-show performance that takes place in the Bar following every Friday and Saturday evening performance. The Cabaret for this production is titled the Goin’ Up NorthMigration Stories of Milwaukee’s African American Families.



Performances of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess  will take place May 17 through June 9, 2013 in the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway in the Historic Third Ward of Milwaukee. Tickets are generally $22.50 – $65.50 (plus tax) and can be purchased in person at the Broadway Theatre Center Box Office or by calling (414) 291-7800 Monday – Sunday from noon – 6:00 p.m. Tickets may also be purchased online at Group, student, senior and other discounts may also be available.


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