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Porgy and Bess - Broadway

A reworked version of this Gershwin classic comes to Broadway starring Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis.

Porgy and Bess' Phillip Boykin on Finding Inspiration From Audra, Suzan-Lori and Mom

Porgy and Bess' Phillip Boykin on Finding Inspiration From Audra, Suzan-Lori and Mom
Phillip Boykin photographed by Jenny Anderson for
As a little boy, I did all my singing and performing just to see my mother smile.

Age & Hometown: 43; Greenville, South Carolina. “I don't mind sharing my age because I've dreamed of being on Broadway for a long time. I tell young people, ‘Never give up on your dream.’”

Current Role: Bringing trouble to the residents of Catfish Row as Crown, Audra McDonald’s abusive lover and pimp, in Porgy and Bess.

Doing It for Mom: One of 10 children, Boykin became the only sibling to graduate from high school and attend college (in his case, earning a master's degree from Howard University and learning to speak five languages). “As a little boy, I did all my singing and performing just to see my mother smile,” he recalls, adding with a laugh that choir directors declared him “tone deaf” until his voice changed. He vividly remembers listening to his uncle's Porgy and Bess album, featuring William Warfield and Leontyne Price. “They looked so wonderful on that album cover, and I thought, 'Ahh, they must make a lot of money.' I found out later that that was wrong—as a performer, you don't do it for the money, you do it because you love what you're doing.”

Awed By Audra: Boykin has performed in seven productions of Porgy and Bess around the world since 1996, rising from understudy to the roles of Jim, Nelson, Jake and the villainous Crown. Asked about his current leading lady, four-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, the actor is momentarily rendered speechless. “Oh my lord! It's like a crash course in how to be an actor every time you are on stage with her. I can’t even find words to describe the feeling. What she exudes as an actress is electrifying.” McDonald offered a simple tip to the nervous Broadway newbie: “She said, 'I find that if we look into each other’s eyes, we can make whatever is going on real for us.' So whenever I am on stage with her, I try to catch her eye. I am looking, just piercing into her eyes, because that turns on the emotion of the scene.”

Keeping Porgy Real: As a South Carolina native and Porgy veteran, Boykin can speak with authority about the script revisions made by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks. “She has done a great service,” he says, adding quickly, “I don’t want to say anything to make it sound as if the original opera isn’t anything but magnificent or perfect the way it is. But Suzan-Lori has really brought it home. The things we say on the stage that Suzan-Lori added are things I would hear in my neighborhood, or at a church picnic. She made it more real. Suzan-Lori grew up there; I grew up there. We grew up saying these things and having that experience. There’s a line in the show ‘You’re a blessing to the picnic.’ Well, she’s a blessing to the show. ”

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