The Ger$hwin Estate

Earlier in the year we talked about the Production of “Gershwin’s” Porgy and Bess on Broadway.  Adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks and jazz composer Diedre L. Murray, the production was chopped down to 2 1/2 hours, and featured many changes including a happy ending.  There was widespread controversy over the new version; Stephen Sondheim, wrote a scathing letter to The New York Times before the show opened for its pre-Broadway tryout in Boston.  In class we talked about the adaptation and issues we took with it- my main issue being the title (Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, not “an adaptation” or “a new spin on the classic”).  I think the implications of the billed title were misleading.

What I didn’t realize then is that there are two shows on Broadway generated by the Gershwin Estate: Porgy and Bess and Nice Work If You Can Get It, which is sort of a “Gershwin Comedy Fest” featuring lots and lots of Gershwin’s songs.   I read an article on NPR entitled Managing The Gershwins’ Lucrative Musical Legacy, which detailed what a lucrative business managing the Gershwin Estate has turned out to be.  A multi-million-dollar-a-year business.

My immediate response is distrust and sort of a grossed-out feeling.  It just seems like these people are pimping out grandpa’s great works to keep the cash coming.  But I realize there could be several schools of thought on this situation. As Ira Gershwin’s nephew describes it, “It’s our job to search out and find uses for this treasure-trove of music, and both the George Gershwin family and the Ira Gershwin family take this responsibility very seriously.”

I understand both sides of this issue- on one hand, the Gershwins are in charge of sharing this great body of work with the world, and they were directly handed this responsibility by Ira Gershwin.  I tried thinking of it like any other inheritance.  They inherited Gershwin’s Estate like someone might inherit a china cabinet, and it’s within their right to decide which room to display that china cabinet in.

However, it seems to me that what the Gershwins are doing is something more like chopping up the Ira Gershwin china cabinet and selling the parts because it’s more lucrative than leaving it intact.

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