By Anthony Tusler

The story of Porgy and Bess is back on Broadway, and Porgy’s disability is almost lost in the revisions.

As fans know, Porgy is a beggar who most likely has paraplegia and so, given the era in which the original 1925 novel, Porgy, is set, uses either a push board or goat cart for mobility. But in the new, shortened musical, called The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, both push board and goat cart are gone, ultimately replaced by a leg brace and cane. Just when the theater world started to face the reality that their lead character actually had a disability, they went and changed him.

Porgy and Bess 1935

1935

The book inspired a play and the folk opera Porgy and Bess. In the novel and every production of the play and opera from 1927 to 1975, Porgy uses a push board around Catfish Row and a goat cart when he goes out into the world. Those mobility devices seem almost ridiculous in the world of titanium wheelchairs and iBots, but for a poor beggar in the ’20s, the push board was as good as it got. The novel explains how, out of necessity, Porgy fashions the goat cart out of junk and a smelly old goat. It gave him immense freedom that anyone with a mobility impairment would instantly recognize.