Skylight Music Theatre presents…

The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess

By George Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin
Stage Direction & Choreography by Bill Theisen
Music Direction by Richard Carsey

Approximate run time is 2 hours and 35 mintues

Synopsis Summary

Hailed as a masterpiece of American Opera and set in Charleston’s fabled Catfish Row, beautiful Bess struggles to break from her scandalous past while Porgy, the crippled beggar, is the only one who can truly rescue her. Threatened by her formidable former lover Crown, and the seductive enticements of the colorful troublemaker Sportin’ Life, Porgy and Bess’ relationship evolves into a deep romance that triumphs as one of theatre’s most exhilarating love stories.

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.



 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.

Press & Reviews

Photo Gallery

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Who’s Who

Directors & Designers

Stage Direction & Choreography Bill Theisen
Music Direction Richard Carsey
Assistant Director Sheri Williams Pannell
Set Design Ken Goldstein
Lighting Design Annmarie Duggan
Costume Design Carol Blanchard
Sound Design Gary Ellis


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