Annual festival kicks off May 6 with production of ‘Porgy and Bess’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 17, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; Opera, the best of Broadway and traditional jazz are on tap for music lovers in May, as the Natchez Festival of Music presents its 2005 season.

Dr. David Blackburn, founding director of the festival, said the lineup offers something for everyone. &uot;There will be drama, laughter, good easy listening and jazz,&uot; he said.

For the past few weeks, the opening production of &uot;Porgy and Bess,&uot; offered May 6 and May 7 at 8 p.m. at Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center, has been the focus of attention at the theater, Blackburn said.

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He has brought the Alcorn State University Concert Choir into the production as chorus &045; a decision that has been successful for the show and for the students, he said.

&uot;They are doing extremely well. It’s like getting a year-long acting course in two weeks, a great learning opportunity for them,&uot; he said. &uot;And the stars of the show have been so attentive. They sit and talk to them and give them suggestions, sharing their experience and knowledge. The students are like sponges.&uot;

The show’s stars are among the most experienced actor-singers to play &uot;Porgy and Bess,&uot; Blackburn said. &uot;They’ve been all over the world in ‘Porgy and Bess,’&uot; he said.

A classic folk opera with music by George Gershwin, the show will star Marvin Lowe as Porgy; Kimberly Morgan as Bess; and Michael Redding as Crown.

The show is set in an area of Charleston, S.C., known as Catfish Row in the 1930s. The famous music is among Gershwin’s best, Blackburn said, including the lyrical &uot;Summertime&uot; and &uot;I Love You, Porgy,&uot; for example.

The season will continue with the Jim Cullum Jazz Band at 8 p.m. on May 14 at the Natchez Convention Center. &uot;He speaks for himself,&uot; Blackburn said. &uot;This is one of the finest pre-1945 jazz units I’ve ever heard. People will love their sound.&uot;

Returning to perform in &uot;An Evening With Cole Porter&uot; will be Nat Chandler, who played Ravenal in Show Boat in 2004. The Cole Porter program will be 8 p.m. May 21 at Margaret Martin.

Singing with Chandler will be Catherine Clarke and Lenena Brezna. &uot;Both of these young ladies were talent winners in the Miss America contest,&uot; Blackburn said. &uot;This will be a delightful evening of fun, easy-listening music .&uot;

On May 15, another veteran of Natchez Festival of Music, Richard Holmes, will return to star in the one-act opera &uot;Gianni Schicchi,&uot; a show that will keep the audience laughing, Blackburn said.

That production will be at 4 p.m. at New Covenant Presbyterian Church on Main Street.

Closing out the season will be &uot;Tosca,&uot; one of Giacomo Puccini’s great dramatic masterpieces, Blackburn said. That production will be May 28 at 8 p.m. at the performing arts center.

In addition to the five main events, there will be other musical offerings throughout the month of May, including plantation performances, a free open-air jazz concert at the Vidalia, La., amphitheater, free concerts in Memorial Park, the annual &uot;Night of Stars&uot; and &uot;Command Performance.&uot;

A gala at Twin Oaks will celebrate the closing of the season after the curtain falls on &uot;Tosca.&uot;