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A CurtainUp Review
Prince of Broadway
By Elyse Sommer
Prince of Broadway is a lot like one of those all dessert dinners. It's a tasty sampling of thirty-six breakout hits from seventeen musicals Harold Prince has directed and often also produced during the course of his long career, dished up by an able and versatile 9-member cast, with backup from a 16-piece orchestra and top tier creative team.
Revues, which is the genre Prince of Broadway fits, haven't been what made the now 89-year-young Prince's work so influential and won him twenty-one Tony awards, he is at the helm of this one, together with choreographer Susan Stroman, a frequent collaborator.
If you don't expect this to be a really enlightening inside look into Harold Prince the man and his creative process, as Sondheim on Sondheim was in 2010, there's much to enjoy here. After all, what's not to like about listening to all these ever ear-hugging show tunes. The brilliant Beowulf Boritt's scenery and always spot-on William Ivey Long's costumes will evoke memories of the original productions for old-timers and help those who've seen few, if any, full productions of the shows get a sense of the missing plot details and songs from what's now on offer.
What's more the show gets off to a great start with its clever and comprehensive overture. The first act's many highs include a sensational new tap dance recreation of Buddy's despairing "The Right Girl" by Tony Yazbeck who will also bowl you over in his "Tonight" duet from West Side Story with golden voiced soprano Bryonha Marie Parham in the show's most fully staged excerpt from Follies. In fact, if there's a consistent star in this cast here for whom someone out to write a brand-new starring vehicle, Yazbeck is definitely the one. That said, such a show should also have a big part for Emily Skinner who in the Company segment's "Ladies Who Lunch" manages to both channel Elaine Stritch and bring her own distinctive voice and persona to this much recorded super hit.
Ultimately, the numerous other highs and polished staging — my own favorite scenery change is actually the drop down backdrop for the only show included in Prince. . . that I've never seen: It's a Bird. . .It's a Plane. . .It's Superman an a showstopper for Brandon Uranowitz — can't avoid a mishmash feel to the show as a whole. Somehow, it just doesn't really add up as the fully connected, interestingly detailed musical memoir it aims to be.
The concept of David Thompson's book being used to illuminate Mr. Prince's life and creative processes to cover the show-to-show transitions would work better if what we learn had more depth. From some things I've read about Prince's own new memoir Sense of Occasion (Applause Books) contains a lot more interesting and less banal information, so maybe that would have been a more effective source for those transitions. Having various members transformed into narrating Hal Princes, courtesy of glasses perched on top of their heads à la Prince, underscores the lack of narrative substance.
While most of the selected shows are regularly revived and we've reviewed productions of all except the above mentioned Superman musical, at least once since our 1996 launch. But only the Prince-Andrew Lloyd Webber juggernaut Phantom of the Opera , is still on Broadway in its original form. I can't say that seeing the masked anti-hero(Michael Xavier) and the lovely maiden (Kaley Ann Voorhees) do their pop-eratic shtick and sing its two signature songs made me want to check out how it's faring after all these years. I would have much preferred a chance to see this ensemble and Prince and Stroman tackle the rarely revived Pulitzer Prize winning Fiorello.
Karen Ziemba, who splashed onto Broadway in the dance musical Contact has also displayed bravura acting and singing talent over the years. In Prince Of Broadway her dynamite rendition of Fraulein Schneider's "So What" makes you glad Cabaret was included even though her being the one wearing the Gorilla costume during the title number with Brandon Uranowich's MC is probably likely to flummox younger audiences unfamiliar with the full context of the 1966 original. On the other hand, her Mrs. Lovett in The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, though certainly original, is too cartoony and shrill. It's also a low for Chuck Cooper. His atypical, amusing Teyve and Joe in the Fiddler On the Roof and Old Man River pieces are fine, as his demon barber is not. Since a wonderful new take on this Sondheim masterpiece is enjoying a long run in the West Village ( review ), readers who haven't seen it would be well-advised to catch up with it.
Another Prince-Lloyd Webber megahit, Evita, is said to be our current President's favorite show (he's not much of a theater goer but it does fit his admiration for dictators). While Che isn't the terrific Tony Yazbek's finest moment, he makes another very moving appearance as Leo Frank in Parade, the show that launched Jason Robert Brown's career and which we did review in it's original format. Considering the impact Harold Prince has had in making musicals with atypical librettos, and music you may not hum as you leave the theater, maybe it's time to give audiences another look at this, especially since its theme of anti-Semitism sadly timelier than ever.
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Prince of Broadway
Book: David Thompson
Director: Harold Prince; co-directed by Susan Stroman
Choreographer: Susan Stroman
Supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Jason Robert Brown
Cast: Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal,Bryonha Marie Parham,Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Tony Yazbeck, Karen Ziemba.
Scenic & Projection Design: Beowlf Boritt
Costumes: William Ivey Long
Lighting: Howell Brinkley
Sound: Jon Weston
Hair and Wigs: Paul Huntley
Makeup: Angelina Avallone New Songs, Arrangements, Orchestrations, Music Supervision: Robert Jason Brown
Stage Manager: Gregory T. Livoti
Music Director: Fred Lassen Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, 1 intermission
MTC, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre 261 West 47th Street
From 8/03/17; opening 8/24/17;closing 10/23/17.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 8/26 press matinee
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