I should have known that George Gershwin would draw a big crowd in Charleston. When I decided to check out the World of Jewish Culture’s Highlights from Porgy and Bess at KK Beth Elohim Synagogue, I thought I’d be sharing the place with a small handful of elderly Gershwin fans. What I found was a madhouse.
When I arrived 10 minutes before the show, a long line was waiting outside in the brutal sun. Sounds from within suggested that the previous concert — Gershwin: Remembrance and Discovery — was still going on … and continued to go on for more than 20 minutes (nearly an hour after it was scheduled to end). We overheard frantic organizers saying that pianist Richard Glazier had not responded to efforts to get him off the stage. So we had to wait it out. (After the show we overheard one woman saying it was the best thing she’d ever seen. We’re glad someone was happy.)
Fun fact: Standing in the June afternoon sun waiting for a Gershwin concert really brings out the worst in people. Southern ladies attempted to lie and charm their way into the air conditioning. Line-breakers were called out by an irate man in a seersucker suit, after which everyone crammed even closer together to protect their place. When we finally got inside, it was obvious the event had been over-sold, and people scrambled for seats. When Ellen Dressler Moryl made the welcoming announcements, several people in the back of the room yelled at her when they couldn’t hear her.
After all that excitement and drama, the show itself was a bit of an afterthought. After a brief history of the opera, we were treated to a performance from several chamber musicians along with soprano D’Janis D. Whipper-Lewis, bass-baritone Daniel Washington, and (my favorite) tenor Matthew Jones. The earlier drama seemed to be forgotten soon after the music started, with songs like “Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and “A Woman is a Sometime Thing.” Gershwin just has that effect on people, I guess.