WE'RE pretty sure your local pharmacy doesn't carry a card for a 450th birthday, but that doesn't mean you can't help William Shakespeare celebrate that milestone this year.
Last month, the Free Library of Philadelphia began a major, yearlong observance of the Bard of Avon that will feature a multidimensional series of programs. Not surprisingly, at the center of the celebration is Ol' Will's theatrical legacy.
"Ninety percent of the programs are related to his plays," said Sandy Horrocks, the library's vice president of external affairs. (Will's historically accepted birth date is April 23, 1564.)
Central to the celebration are performances of Shakespeare's plays at various venues, including the grand Free Library building, at 19th and Vine streets, where "Romeo and Juliet" recently was staged in the lobby.
Four local companies - Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, Lantern Theatre, Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company and Revolution Shakespeare - are involved.
There will be films, too, among them two based on "Romeo and Juliet": 2011's animated "Gnomeo & Juliet" and the 1961 blockbuster "West Side Story."
"We're trying to take what people maybe think of as 'old stuff' and trying to make it more contemporary, and give people a different way to look at these wonderful plays," Horrocks said.
Many events have not yet been scheduled. But the upcoming week features several, including a screening of the 2000 film version of "Titus," starring Anthony Hopkins (11 a.m. tomorrow; Northeast Regional Library, 2228 Cottman Ave.) and the stage version of "Macbeth" (2 and 8 p.m. tomorrow; Tomlinson Theater at Temple University, 1301 W. Norris St.).
For more info, go to freelibrary.org/bard.
We're not sure that "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" merits the old "If you see only one show this year . . ." treatment, but you certainly can't go wrong by taking in the touring version of the 2012 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of the epochal 1935 operetta by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, whose 1920s novel, "Porgy," was the basis of the Gershwins' "folk opera."
It runs through Sunday at the Academy of Music.
"Porgy and Bess" is a love story set in the early 20th century among the denizens of a Charleston, S.C., ghetto identified here as Catfish Row. Its residents were part of the African-based Gullah culture that exists today in that part of the South and informs a good deal of the presentation, from language to music.
Porgy, a crippled-from-birth beggar, falls in love with Bess, a young woman who, when we first meet her, is a cocaine-sniffing prostitute "belonging" to the brutish villain, Crown.
After Crown murders a fellow dice player, he leaves Bess and hides from the law, warning her that any attachments she forms with other men will be temporary, as he intends to return to claim her once again.
Porgy offers her asylum. She falls in love and sets out to live a wholesome life as Porgy's mate. But complications ensue and tragedies occur, giving the story more than enough melodramatic heft.
While the cast is uniformly strong, vocal ability trumps acting skill. No one here seems fully immersed in their roles.
Nathaniel Stampley is a dignified and determined Porgy. But he comes off a little too robust and self-assured for someone who has lived decades with physical deformities and financial and emotional deprivation. Still, his stirring baritone carries the day.
Alicia Hall Moran makes a fine and fetching Bess, vulnerable and unsure of herself or her place in the world. Her operatic soprano is a fine match for Stampley's vocals.
Among the supporting players, Alvin Crawford is perfectly hateful as Crown, and Kingsley Leggs is suitably slimy as the coke-dealing Sporting Life, who figures in the story's surprisingly downbeat conclusion.
But the real reason to see "Porgy and Bess" is its remarkable, forward-thinking score, which encompasses jazz, blues, gospel, European operetta and Afro-Cuban motifs. It is at once of its time and timeless.
There is a preponderance of ballads, which makes things a little slow in spots. But a little patience will result in great rewards.