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Coming home

‘Porgy & Bess’ at Lincoln Theater features D.C.’s own Duane Moody

(Published November 1, 1999)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

When the footlights come up and the curtain rises Nov. 9 on an international touring company’s production of Porgy & Bess at historic Lincoln Theater, Duane Moody will be playing to a hometown crowd.

It will be a one-night stand for the 28-year-old Ward 8 resident — a benefit show for the D.C. Congress of Parents and Teachers Associations. Wedged between performances in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Charlotte, N.C., it’s part of a whirlwind tour that has included nearly 100 performances since March throughout the United States and in six major cities of England. The tour will take him to Egypt in January.

The performance will be the first in the nation’s capital for the Living Arts Inc. traveling production, now in its eighth season of taking the acclaimed Gershwin opera Porgy & Bess to audiences around the world. Moody said "one phone call" to his mother, Linda, resulted in the booking. (Linda Moody, a former president of the D.C. Board of Education, currently heads the DCPTA.)

Does Duane Moody, a Ballou Senior High School graduate, find it ironic that his first big professional acting role has the cast’s D.C. resident playing the evil, drug-dealing character Sportin’ Life?

Moody can’t stop laughing.

"Nobody’s made that connection before you just did," he said, the laughter continuing. "I’m having a ball. How many people can say they perform for 16,000 people a week? I have no complaints."

Except maybe that he admits he hates crowds — but loves an audience. A man of contradictions. But the crowds, and the critics, seem to love him.

A Los Angeles Times theater critic called Moody "a spiffy Sportin’ Life." The Maine Sunday Telegram said he displayed "a dangerous charisma and willingness to seize upon the dramatic moment." Moody "nearly stole the show," wrote an Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle critic, "especially during the number There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York. ‘He’s so gooooood,’ an audience member behind me said."

Moody said his family has "always been supportive" of his desire since age 4 to be the entertainer, encouraging him through singing, dancing and piano lessons. Teachers at Ballou told him an acting career was "going to be hard, going to be rough, but you can make it." His studies, which include post-graduate work in performing arts, took him beyond Ballou to Carnegie-Mellon, Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Conservatory of Music and Boston University.

Moody said he took the stereotypical fledgling actor route to help earn his way through college, working as a waiter. "My parents wanted me to get a degree in education — you know, so I would have something to fall back on – but I knew I wouldn’t be happy as a teacher," the tenor said. "I always knew I wanted to perform. My place is to be on the stage."

He had some doubts about four years ago, though, when he "hit rock bottom" financially and mentally.

"I saw all these people making millions, people getting the roles, making the recordings who weren’t as talented. I was going to all these auditions, but I never got called back….Then something inside of you says, ‘These are just tests to make you stronger. You can’t worry about things you can’t control.’ I can control how I perform on stage."

Two years ago, Moody made his professional recital debut at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. He made his international debut in the role of Sportin’ Life in July 1998 at the VI Festival de Artes in Itu, Brazil.

And early this year, he sang the lead role of Philip Herriton for the Peabody Opera Theatre’s world premiere of Mark Lanz Weiser’s opera Where Angels Fear to Tread – no small feat, considering the character was written as a conventional, young white English lawyer and gentleman. "He’s not exactly English," director Roger Brunyate was quoted as saying about the African-American Moody in Johns Hopkins University’s April 1999 alumni magazine. "I would never have thought of Duane for Philip in a hundred years. But the man can sing it."

Moody seems to take all the accolades in stride. Worldwide travel and adoring audiences aside, he still views it all as his job – "That’s what I do, 24-7, and I enjoy doing what I’m doing." But he also notes his more mundane obligations, like paying off college loans.

Does he want to be famous?

"I think my goal is just to be happy at who I am and what I’m doing and to make other people happy," he said. "I used to want to be famous and have a lot of money. Now I’m just blessed to be working. It’s not easy out there.

"When I go on stage for a curtain call, and they’re whoopin’ and hollerin’, I did my job. I gave 120 percent, and that surpasses any kind of money you can have. It helps you focus on what’s really important."

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator