Every few years, one of the local acting companies renews the Lowcountry's artistic relationship to the much-loved American opera, "Porgy and Bess," and it's famous creators, George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward.
There was a time in Charleston when Heyward and the Gershwin brothers rented a little house, now a museum on Folly Beach, and composed the opera with the help of an old upright piano.
News accounts of the time, mainly by News and Courier reporter Frank Gilbreth, later known to the public as columnist Ashley Cooper, say that people could hear music being played at all hours of the day and night.
Most recently, "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" was on Broadway with the impeccable Audra McDonald starring as Bess. It was an adapted version of the original opera with some changes in the plots and characters.
Other artists have paid tribute, and now Julian Wiles, the creative soul behind Charleston Stage, has created a musical that is both magical and amusing.
Wiles can never just stage a production that has been successful in the past. He always has to up the excitement by adding layers to the production.
This time, he collaborated with artist Jonathan Green for the sets and costumes. Green sat reading the script and doodling in the margins. From there he created several paintings.
"When director Marybeth Clark and I began working on this newest version of 'Gershwin at Folly' we wanted a way to graphically illustrate that for (George) Gershwin, coming to Folly Beach was like coming to another world, a truly magical and exotic world," explains Wiles. "Gershwin himself, in a letter to his mother, said arriving on Folly was as if he had 'landed on a battered South Sea Island.' Folly was indeed fairly primitive in those days, there was no bridge and you had to bring your own fresh water with you."
Green also was inspired by Wiles' work and said of it, "What drew me to this project was the cultural inclusion of Julian's script as it tells the amazing story of Gershwin discovering and embracing the rich Gullah culture of the South Carolina Lowcountry. I was impressed at how the play shows how the lives of the people of the Lowcountry have been intertwined for generations: their music, their culture, their way of life."
Of course, all the great inspirations in the work need to be translated into concrete terms for the stage, so scenic designer Ken Barnett made what he is calling "Jonathan Green-Land."
He re-created in 3-D Green's signature clouds floating in the air, and cut out palmetto trees that appear from left and right. Upstage there are sand dunes and a multicolored oceanscape. The stage will be like living in one of Green's paintings.
The musical features dozens of Gershwin's greatest melodies, including; "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Fascinating Rhythm" and the immortal "Summertime."
Opening night is April 4 and it's running for three weeks. Tickets range from $22.50 to $57.50 and are available online at www.charlestonstage.com or by calling 577-7183 from 1-5 p.m. during the weeks with the shows. Charleston Stage is at 135 Church St.
Marquis de Lafayette
Another iconic place in Charleston that few people get to visit is the Confederate House at 62 Broad St. This used to be the home for Confederate widows, but now is a mix of apartments and odd spaces. It has a spectacular courtyard and ambience.
On Thursday, Chamber Music Charleston will present "Fete de la Musique" as a fundraiser and performance.
It will attempt to "channel the spirit of the celebrated visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to Charleston in 1825" according to the information. Guests are encouraged to attend in their best "cocktail chic" attire to mingle with the honored guest, the Marquis, and other figures from the 19th century.
The Washington Light Infantry, one of the nation's oldest militia units, will be in attendance. In 1824, the company was distinguished with the "Fusilier Francaise" and escorted the Marquis de Lafayette into Charleston.
The event begins at 6:30 with an open bar and gourmet food in the garden. Then the party moves up to a chamber music concert in the drawing room.
Flutist Regina Helcher Yost, violist Ben Weiss and guest harpist Patricia Anderson will present a program of French music.
No such evening would be complete without a silent auction.
Proceeds support CMC's children's educational programs. For tickets, which are $125, and more information, visit www.ChamberMusicCharleston.org or call 763-4941
Sounds like fun and a very Charleston thing to do.
New photo workshop
I've always wondered why Charleston has never been home to big-name photography workshops like those in Maine and the desert Southwest. We have spectacular landscapes and we're a noted tourist destination, both of which are great ingredients for seasoned professionals or aspiring amateurs to come and learn more about their craft.
Now a photographer with credentials has settled here and has just opened his new venture that will start offering workshops next month.
Richard Ellis, a former international correspondent and founder of the agency that became Getty Images News Photos, has created Charleston Photography Workshops because he believes photographers honing their craft at every level work best beside experts.
He's assembled some noted names, including Pulitzer Prize winner Deanne Fitzmaurice, lighting expert Tony Corbell, three-time Travel Photographer of the Year Bob Krist, and Canon Explorer of Light Rick Sammon among others.
The workshops will be based out of his downtown location at 139 Spring Street and will vary between week-long experiences and shorter one-day workshops that might appeal to locals.
For more information, go to www.charlestonworkshops.com or call 814-6001.
Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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