Prince of Broadway

Karen Ziemba, Chuck Cooper, "Sweeney Todd." Photo by Matthew Murphy

Karen Ziemba, Chuck Cooper, “Sweeney Todd.” Photo by Matthew Murphy

 

Nancy Salz – September, 2017

Hal Prince is a fine excuse for a Broadway revue. In his 67 years in the theatre, Prince produced or directed 57 shows, some of the biggest hits Broadway has ever seen. He is a giant in the theatre – maybe even the giant.

To pay him homage – and hopefully dazzle us all in the process – The Manhattan Theatre Club has just opened Prince of Broadway. With music and lyrics by Adler and Ross, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim,  Bock and Harnick, Strouse and Adams, Kander and Ebb, Kern and Hammerstein II, Uhry and Brown, Weber and Rice, and Weber and Hurt, how could it miss? And it doesn’t miss most of the time – that is if entertainment is the sole goal.

But we usually want more in a musical, chief among them is involvement. We don’t care much about the characters in Prince of Broadway’s numbers or sadly even about Prince himself because there is no plot to speak of. David Thompson has written some flimsy dialogue to tie the musical vignettes together, and sometimes we learn a fact or two about Prince’s career but little about him as a person. Even worse, there is no single narrator; it’s left up to the lead performers to fill us in from time to time on the tidbits of Prince’s life. All in all, this experience in musical theatre is often unsatisfying and disconcerting.

Plus, if you haven’t seen the shows, some of the numbers are confusing – especially those from Follies, which can be confusing even when full-length.

Two revues in the past, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (1989) and Fosse (1999) engaged us completely. And it wasn’t just because of their books. (The Robbins show had a narrator, Jason Alexander, who won a Tony for his role; Fosse didn’t have a narrator.) It was more because of their subject matter. Both Robbins and Fosse were great choreographers, each with a unique style. We could relate to their work because it was right there in front of us on the stage. It’s rather difficult to see direction – and probably we’re not supposed to!  Something intangible ties the scenes together in Prince of Broadway. Both Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and Fosse won best musical Tonys. This is unlikely to happen for Prince of Broadway.

And yet … among the show’s 36 numbers (one original to Prince of Broadway) from 17 different productions, there are a few fabulous performances.

Let’s start with Chuck Cooper, whose baritone voice is goose-bump thrilling. His “If I Were A Rich Man” from Fiddler On The Roof was even better than Zero Mostel’s. Because Cooper is an actor as well as a singer, we could feel his deep longing to be rich rather than just not be poor. Mostel added a lot of funny shtick. Cooper’s rendition was simple and heartfelt.

Tony Yazbeck danced the bejesus out of “The Right Girl” from Follies. Including both ballet and tap, this complex and exhausting number was clearly created by the inventive Susan Stroman, the show’s co-director and choreographer, just for Yazbeck.

Also a knock out was Bryonha Marie Parham’s “Will He Like Me” from She Loves Me. We were right there with her feeling Amalia’s hopes and dreams for her upcoming date.

Emily Skinner’s “Ladies Who Lunch” from Company was wonderfully sarcastic. But after having seen Ellen Harvey in the Barrington Stage Company’s recent production, Skinner fell a little short.

Brandon Uranowitz, Karen Ziemba, Janet Decal and Kelly Ann Voorhees were extremely impressive. Michael Xavier was also excellent, but not quite in a league with his stage colleagues.

For the past 37 years, ever since enduring the original Cats, I have studiously avoided anything by Andrew Lloyd Weber. In Prince of Broadway,  Evita and Phantom Of The Opera were thrust upon me. I saw and heard nothing to make me regret my decades-long decision!

Beowulf Borrit designed the effective scenery and projections. William Ivy Long came through as usual with gorgeous costumes. Jason Robert Brown took on the amazing task of writing a new song, and providing the musical arrangements, orchestrations and music supervision. Fred Lassen directed the too too small 12 piece orchestra. The show was directed by Hal Prince himself. (Who else could do justice to his life’s work?)

This is a lavish production for the non-profit Manhattan Theatre Club. Unless they extend this  limited engagement, it might never make back its investment. Too bad. With all its limitations, Prince of Broadway is a very enjoyable evening in the theatre. But if you have a limited budget, save your money for upcoming productions of the 2017-2018 season.

Music and lyrics by Adler and Ross, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim,  Bock and Harnick, Strouse and Adams, Kander and Ebb, Kern and Hammerstein, Uhry and Brown, Weber and Rice, and Weber and Hurt; New songs, arrangements, orchestration, and music supervision by Jason Robert Brown; Book by David Thompson; Direction by Jarold Prince; Co-direction and choreography by Susan Stroman; Scenic and projection design by Beowulf Borritt; Costume design by William Ivy Long; Lighting Design by Howell Brinkley; Sound design by Jon Weston