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“Bring My Boat!” — Who Wrote the Ending of Porgy and Bess?

“Bring my goat!” Porgy exclaims in the final scene of Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess. Bess has left for New York City and he’s determined to find her. When his request is met with astonishment — New York is a great distance from Catfish Row — Porgy remains undaunted. He mounts his goat-cart and leads the community in an ecstatic finale, “Oh Lawd, I’m on my way.”

Stephen Sondheim has called “Bring my goat!” “one of the most moving moments in musical theater history.” For years it was assumed that DuBose Heyward — the author of the seminal 1925 novella Porgy and subsequent 1927 play of the same name, and later the librettist for the opera Porgy and Bess — penned this historic line. In fact, both it and “Oh Lawd, I’m on my way” were added to the play eight years earlier by that production’s unheralded architect: Rouben Mamoulian. Porgy and Bess as we know it would not exist without the contributions of this master director.

Hence my new book: “On My Way” – The Untold Story of Rouben Mamoulian, George Gershwin, and Porgy and Bess. Culling new information from the recently opened Mamoulian Archives at the Library of Congress, I show that, more than anyone else, Mamoulian took Heyward’s vignette of a regional African-American subculture and transformed it into an epic theater work, a universal parable of suffering and redemption.

The book comes with festooned with blurbs attesting that it “restores Mamoulian to the pantheon of essential figures in the development of American theater and cinema” (Larry Starr), “reveals Mamoulian as a brilliant co-auteur of Gershwin’s masterpiece” (Mark. N. Grant), and “completes our understanding of Porgy and Bess” (John Mauceri).

A forgotten hero of American musical theater, Mamoulian subsequently directed Oklahoma! and Carousel – Broadway landmarks fired by Mamoulian’s early exposure to Russian experimental theater. The play Porgy made Mamoulian famous overnight. Three decades later, Samuel Goldwyn fired Mamoulian from the film version of Porgy and Bess, effectively ending his career. Once Broadway’s boy-wonder director, later the Hollywood director of Maurice Chevalier and Greta Garbo, he died in sordid obscurity.

The Mamoulian Archives, which supplied the smoking gun that ignited my findings, remain largely unexplored. A proper understanding of Mamoulian’s no doubt crucial role as meddlesome director of Oklahoma!, Carousel, and Lost in the Stars awaits future researchers.

an ArtsJournal blog