Black theater agent produces ‘Porgy & Bess’

Irene Gandy.
Photo by Ronnie Wright
Photo by Ronnie Wright

A new, exciting and probably closer to being culturally-correct revised version of George and Ira Gershwin’s 1935 classic, Black opera “Porgy & Bess” has taken up residency on Broadway.

The musical stars Norm Lewis (Porgy), Audra McDonald (Bess) and David Alan Grier (Sporting Life).

Abbreviated from the four-hour, folk opera regaled for its lyrics and language, this reshaped production opened recently at the Richard Rodgers Theater.

Far more comprehensive and less-offensive to non-gullah interpreters an adaptation by Suzan Lori-Parks and Diedre L. Murray secures a home-run from the Great White Way to Catfish Row and Kittawah Island, Charleston, South Carolina where the musical is based.

Slashed from four hours to a comfortable theater viewing time-frame, this revival lists as producer, Irene Gandy, the first and only female African-American press representative in the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers.

Acclaimed in theater circles as a savvy dresser, media-friendly and always Broadway bound, for 42 years Gandy has been a press agent and prominently affiliated with Jeffrey Richards Associates, specialists in Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.

Credited with publicizing more than 100 Broadway shows, including: “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” “Eubie” with Gregory Hines, Bob Fosse’s “Chicago,” “The Wiz” with Stephanie Mills, Lena Horne’s “The Lady and Her Music,” Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man,” “Purlie Victorious,” and “Sweet Charity” Gandy is a native New Yorker.

Raised in Westbury, Long Island, by the time she turned 21 she was already on her way to the core of the Big Apple living in Greenwich Village.

One of her first forays into theater was with the National Ensemble Company, a Black theater company. Apparently, Gandy happened into the profession when one of her friends told her the company though successful at wooing actors and directors were unsuccessful at luring a representative that could identify with their image and mission of presenting plays that reflect the Black experience.

“Nobody wants to be a press agent,” Gandy said the artistic director Douglas Turner Ward said.

Although she had just become a mother to little Myra, she decided to challenge the open position.

“I was like, ‘What is a press agent?’ The only thing I knew about press agents was Mae West’s line, ‘My press agent kidnapped me,’ from that movie Go West Young Man. I ended up asking him all these things, and I said, ‘Thank you for your time, I know I’m not going to get the job.’ He called me the next day and said, ‘You got the job.’ “

“I love theatre; I love the people,” Gandy said.

A regular at the famous Sardi Restaurant where caricatures of Broadway’s most famous thespians are displayed, Gandy was honored with her own on her 65th birthday.

She joins the luminaries, Tony award winners and stellar insiders of the Great White Way whose images line the walls.

“I go into Sardi’s and see (Shubert president) Phil Smith in the corner, and Max (Klimavicius), who was a busboy, and now owns it.”

Gandy says the landmark feels like home.

And while the theater has also been “like home” to the press agent, nightly when the press agent/producer hears Porgy (Norm Lewis)” sing “I Got Plenty of Nothing” she relates.

Catch You on The Inside!

A scene from “Porgy & Bess.”
Photo by Michael J. Lutch
Photo by Michael J. Lutch

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