Porgy and Bess®


Known worldwide as a masterpiece and “An American Folk Opera,” PORGY AND BESS® was George Gershwin’s final work for the musical stage. Based on DuBose and Dorothy Heyward’s play Porgy, PORGY & BESS combines elements of jazz, classical, and American folk music. Musical numbers include “Summertime,” “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” and “I’m On My Way.”

Photo courtesy of New York Harlem Theatre in Naples, Italy

  • Synopsis
  • Credits
  • Orchestration
  • Materials
  • Cast
  • History
  • Musical Numbers
  • Upcoming
  • Act 1

    Scene 1: Catfish Row, a summer evening

    An evening in Catfish Row, an African-American tenement on Charleston’s waterfront, in the 1930s. Jasbo Brown entertains the community with his piano playing (“Jasbo Brown Blues”). Clara, a young mother, sings a lullaby to her baby (“Summertime”) as the workingmen prepare for a game of craps. Among the players are Sportin’ Life, Jake, Mingo, Jim, and Robbins, who enters the game despite the protestations of his wife, Serena (“Roll Them Bones”). Jake breaks away briefly, takes the baby from his wife Clara, and sings his own lullaby, “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing.” Porgy, a disabled beggar, enters on his goat cart to organize the game. As the game begins in earnest, Crown, a strong and brutal stevedore, storms in with his woman, Bess. He buys cheap whiskey and some of Sportin’ Life’s “happy dust.” Drunk and agitated, Crown gets into an argument with Robbins; a brawl ensues, and Crown kills Robbins with a cotton hook.

    Crown runs, telling Bess to fend for herself until he returns after the heat has died down. Sportin’ Life gives her a dose of happy dust and invites her to join him in New York, but she refuses, and he takes off. Fearing the police, the residents of Catfish Row quickly retreat to their homes. Bess, left alone, frantically knocks on doors, seeking shelter. Finally, Porgy opens his door to her, and Bess tentatively enters. Meanwhile, in the courtyard, Serena collapses over the body of her husband.

    Scene 2: Serena’s Room, the following night

    Robbins’ body is laid out with a saucer on his chest. Serena sits disconsolately as neighbors, including Porgy and Bess, come in to comfort her and to contribute money for the burial (“Gone, Gone, Gone”). Porgy leads an impassioned plea to fill the saucer with donations (Overflow”). A white detective enters and coldly tells Serena that she must bury her husband the next day, or his body will be given to medical students, for dissection. He suddenly accuses Peter of Robbins’s murder. The old man protests his innocence, blurting out that Crown did it; the detective moves on to Porgy but gets no information out of him, and Peter is hauled off as a “material witness.”

    Serena laments her loss (“My Man’s Gone Now”). The undertaker enters. The saucer holds only fifteen dollars of the needed twenty-five, but he agrees to bury Robbins as long as Serena promises to pay him back. Bess, who has been sitting in silence slightly apart from the rest of those gathered, suddenly begins singing a gospel song. The neighbors join in, welcoming her into the community (“Leaving For the Promised Land”).

    Act 2

    Scene 1: Catfish Row, a month later, in the morning

    Jake and the other fishermen prepare for work (“It Takes A Long Pull To Get There”). Clara begs Jake not to go during hurricane season, but he insists; they desperately need the money. Porgy, content in his new life with Bess, emerges from his home with a new outlook on life (“I Got Plenty of Nothing”). Sportin’ Life saunters over to Maria’s table; she  upbraids him for peddling dope around her shop (“I Hates Your Struttin’ Style”). A fraudulent lawyer, Frazier, arrives and sells Porgy a divorce for Bess, even though it turns out that she had not been married to Crown. Archdale, a white lawyer, enters and informs Porgy that Peter will soon be released. A buzzard flies over Catfish Row – a bad omen – and Porgy demands that it leave him and his newfound happiness (“The Buzzard Song”).

    As the rest of Catfish Row prepares for the church picnic on nearby Kittiwah Island, Sportin’ Life again offers to take Bess to New York with him; she refuses. He attempts to give her some happy dust, but Porgy forcefully orders him to leave Bess alone. Sportin’ Life leaves, and Porgy and Bess declare their love for each other (“Bess, You Is My Woman Now”). The neighbors, in high spirits, set off for the picnic (“Oh, I Can’t Sit Down”). Maria invites Bess to join them, but Bess demurs; Porgy’s disability prevents him from boarding the boat. Porgy persuades her to go along and have a good time, and he proudly waves her off as the boat departs (“I Got Plenty of Nothing” Reprise).

    Scene 2: Kittiwah Island, that evening

    Everyone is enjoying the picnic as it winds to a close (“I Ain’t Got No Shame”). Sportin’ Life entertains the crowd with his cynical views on the Bible (“It Ain’t Necessarily So”), but Serena chastises them for their blasphemy (“Shame On All You Sinners!”). The neighbors gather their belongings and head towards the boat. Bess lags behind, and suddenly Crown emerges from the bushes. He reminds her that Porgy is “temporary” and laughs off her claims of living decently. Bess pleads with him to let her go (“Oh, What You Want With Bess?”) but Crown refuses. He grabs her, preventing her from boarding the boat, and forcefully kisses her. As the boat whistle sounds again, Bess surrenders, unable to resist.

    Scene 3: Catfish Row, a week later, just before dawn

    A week later, Jake leaves to go fishing with his crew, one of whom observes that a storm may be coming in. Peter, still unsure of his crime, returns from prison. Meanwhile, Bess lies in Porgy’s room, delirious with fever. Serena prays to remove Bess’s affliction (“Oh, Doctor Jesus”), and promises Porgy that Bess will be well by five o’clock. The day passes, and street vendors hawk their wares (“Vendors’ Trio”).

    As the clock chimes five, Bess recovers from her fever. Porgy knows Bess was with Crown but he doesn’t mind. Bess admits she has promised to return to Crown, and though she wants to stay in Catfish Row, she fears she’s too weak to resist him. Declaring her love for Porgy, she begs him to protect her; Porgy promises she’ll never be afraid again (“I Loves You, Porgy”).

    As the winds begin to blow, Clara watches the water, fearful for Jake. The sky darkens and the hurricane bell clangs. People hurry inside and Clara collapses, calling her husband’s name.

    Scene 4: Serena’s Room, dawn of the next day

    The residents of Catfish Row gather in Serena’s room for shelter from the hurricane. They drown out the sound of the storm with prayers and hymns (“Oh, Doctor Jesus”), but Sportin’ Life mocks their assumption that the storm is a signal of Judgment Day. Clara desperately sings to her baby (“Summertime” Reprise). A knock is heard at the door, and many believe it to be Death (“Oh There’s Somebody Knocking At the Door”). Crown enters dramatically, having swum from Kittiwah Island, seeking Bess. The townspeople try to drown out his blaspheming with prayer, but he taunts them with a vulgar song (“A Red-Headed Woman”).

    Suddenly Clara screams, falling back from the window. Bess rushes over and peers out; Jake’s boat is upside down in the river. Clara thrusts her baby at Bess and rushes out. Bess pleads for someone to join Clara, but no one moves. Finally Crown, looking at the frightened faces around him, taunts the men for their cowardice. He opens the door, shouts at Bess that he will return, and plunges into the storm. The others return to their prayers.

    Act 3

    Scene 1: Catfish Row, the next night

    The storm has passed, and the residents of Catfish Row mourn the loss of Clara, Jake, and Crown (“Clara, Clara, Don’t You Be Downhearted”). Sportin’ Life hints to Maria that Crown has somehow survived. Bess, now caring for Clara’s baby, tenderly sings to him (“Summertime”). As night falls on Catfish Row, Crown stealthily enters and makes his way to Porgy’s room. Porgy confronts Crown, and a fight ensues. Ultimately, Porgy prevails,  killing Crown. Porgy cries out, “Bess… You’ve got a man now. You’ve got Porgy!”

    Scene 2: Catfish Row, the next afternoon

    The police and the coroner arrive, seeking information about Crown’s murder. Serena and her friends deny any knowledge of the crime, so the detective orders Porgy to come and identify the body. Bess is distraught, and Sportin’ Life hints that Porgy will either spend years in jail or die by hanging. Offering her more happy dust, Sportin’ Life again invites Bess to join him up north (“There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York”). He thrusts another packet of dope at her, but she refuses it and runs inside. Tossing it into her room, he slowly starts off. Suddenly, the door of Porgy’s room flies open, and Bess comes out, high on happy dust. Arm in arm, Bess and Sportin’ Life swagger out through the gate.

    Scene 3: Catfish Row, a week later

    On a beautiful morning, Porgy is released from jail, where he has been arrested for contempt of court for refusing to look at Crown’s body. He is in high spirits and has brought presents for everyone, including a beautiful red dress for Bess. He doesn’t understand why everyone seems so uneasy at his return. Seeing Clara’s baby with Serena, he realizes something is wrong (“Oh Bess, Oh Where’s my Bess?”). Maria and Serena tell him Bess has run off to New York with Sportin’ Life. Porgy calls for his goat cart, and resolves to leave Catfish Row to find her. He prays for strength, and begins his long journey (“Oh, Lord, I’m On My Way”).

  • The Gershwins®’ PORGY AND BESS®
    by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin

    No person or company except the Licensee shall appear above the title or the Authors’ names. The Authors’ names shall be equal in size and prominence to each other and shall be equal or greater in size and prominence to all other credits except the title of the play. In the programs, the credits shall appear on the title page thereof.

    In all advertising material, biographies, programs, announcements and publicity controlled by the Licensee and/or the Producer, authorship credit may only be expressed as “PORGY AND BESS by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin.” No individual credit shall be given for music, lyrics and libretto, and no individual shall be credited as a “composer” or “lyricist” but rather as a “songwriter” or “creator.”

    The following announcements shall appear on the title page in all programs for the play:

    “The worldwide copyrights in the music of
    George and Ira Gershwin® for this presentation are licensed by
    the Gershwin Family.”

    “GERSHWIN is a registered trademark and service mark
    of Gershwin Enterprises.
    PORGY AND BESS is a registered trademark and service mark of
    Porgy and Bess Enterprises.”

    “The Gershwins®’ PORGY AND BESS®
    is presented by arrangement with
    Tams-Witmark, A Concord Theatricals Company

    Additionally, you agree to include the above language hyperlinked to https://tamswitmark.com/ on all websites on which you promote the play.

  • Once you have obtained a license for your production from Tams-Witmark Music Library, you may inquire about orchestration materials from:

    European American Music Distributors Company
    254 West 31st Street
    Floor 15
    New York, NY 10001
    Tel: +1 212 461 6940
    Fax: +1 212 810 4565
    For general inquiries: [email protected]
    For rental inquiries: [email protected]

  • Once you have obtained a license for your production from Tams-Witmark Music Library, you may inquire about rehearsal materials from:

    European American Music Distributors Company
    254 West 31st Street
    Floor 15
    New York, NY 10001
    Tel: +1 212 461 6940
    Fax: +1 212 810 4565
    For general inquiries: [email protected]
    For rental inquiries: [email protected]

  • Porgy – bass-baritone
    Bess – soprano
    Crown – baritone
    Serena – soprano
    Clara – soprano
    Maria – contralto
    Jake – baritone
    Sporting Life – tenor
    Mingo – tenor
    Robb – tenor
    Peter – tenor
    Frazier – baritone
    Annie – mezzo-soprano
    Lily – mezzo-soprano
    Strawberry Woman – mezzo-soprano
    Jim – baritone
    Undertaker – tenor
    Nelson – tenor
    Crab Man – tenor

    Mr. Archdale

    Residents of Catfish Row, Fishermen, Children, Stevedores, etc.

  • PORGY AND BESS® is one of the greatest achievements of the American Musical Theatre. It was first presented at the Alvin Theatre in New York in 1935, and has been presented throughout the world including at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1984-85 season.

    Awards 2012

    The Tony Award for Revival
    The Drama Desk Award for Actress

  • Act I

    “Jasbo Brown Blues” – Ensemble
    “Summertime” – Clara
    “A Woman Is A Sometime Thing” – Jim, Jake, Sportin’ Life and Ensemble
    “Here Come The Honey Man” – Peter, Lily and Ensemble
    “They Pass By Singing” – Porgy
    “Crap Game Fugue” – Porgy, Sportin’ Life, Crown and Men
    “Gone, Gone, Gone” – Ensemble
    “Overflow”- Ensemble
    “My Man’s Gone Now” – Serena and Ensemble
    “Leavin’ for The Promised Land” – Bess and Ensemble

    Act II

    “It Takes A Long Pull” – Jim, Jake and Ensemble
    “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin” – Porgy
    “Buzzard Song” – Porgy and Ensemble
    “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” – Porgy and Bess
    “Oh, I Can’t Sit Down” – Ensemble
    “I Ain’t Got No Shame” – Ensemble
    “It Ain’t Necessarily So” – Sportin’ Life and Ensemble
    “What You Want With Bess?” – Crown and Bess
    “Oh, Doctor Jesus” – Principals and Ensemble
    “Street Cries” – Strawberry Woman and Crab Man
    “I Loves You, Porgy” – Porgy and Bess
    “Oh, Heavenly Father” – Ensemble
    “Oh, The Lord Shake The Heavens” – Ensemble
    “Summertime (Reprise)” – Clara
    “Oh, There’s Somebody Knockin’ At The Door” – Ensemble
    “A Red Headed Woman” – Crown and Ensemble

    Act III

    “Clara, Don’t You Be Downhearted” – Ensemble
    “There’s A Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon For New York” – Sportin’ Life and Bess
    “Good Mornin’, Sister!” – Ensemble
    “Oh, Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess” – Porgy
    “Oh Lord, I’m On My Way” – Porgy and Ensemble

  • Find upcoming performances near you.

    Search for performances near you
    Organization City, State First Performance Last Performance
    Red Mountain Theatre Company Birmingham, AL 02/07/2020 02/23/2020
    Atlanta Opera Atlanta, GA 03/07/2020 03/15/2020
    Washington National Opera Washington, DC 05/09/2020 05/23/2020