Prince of Broadway
Manhattan Theatre Club at Samuel J Friedman Theatre, Broadway
BS rating: B-
Show-Score Rating: 75
On the way out of the theatre after experiencing “Prince of Broadway,” my husband turned to me and said, “Well that was the best cruise ship show I have ever seen.” For those of you not familiar with the type of entertainment on large-scale cruise ships, Broadway medleys sung by young performers are standard fare in these floating theatres. It’s unfair to compare the overwhelmingly talented cast at the Friedman Theatre to the choristers turned soloists on the ship stage. But the overall effect of this tribute to a Broadway legend is not unlike the musical diversions at sea.
There is a sort of “Catch-22” in attempting to capture the genius of Hal Prince by stringing together many of the most popular (and a few lesser known) songs from his many decades of Broadway shows. Prince is a director and producer. He doesn’t write songs. He does not create lyrics. And he does not write the dialog that tells the story – although all of these elements are tools for a director and their success relies on his skill in integrating all of the elements into an artistic whole. It’s that “artistic whole” that distinguishes the work of a great director (and producer). So, it is not surprising that an evening of knock-out singing and dancing does not fully satisfy those who have experienced Prince’s “whole.”
Prince and Susan Stroman (the co-director and choreographer) certainly evoke the memories of those Broadway hits and misses. Each sequence from a show has scenery (by Beowolf Boritt) that replicates the style of the original production as do the costumes by former Prince collaborator, William Ivey Long. The book (and there is not much) by David Thompson uses quotes by Prince, most of which sound like they were pulled from a press release rather than containing any specific insights about any of the productions or wisdom about the art of directing and producing.
But “Prince on Broadway” is entertaining. It is full of juicy numbers that let a brilliant collection of musical theatre pros sell each song as if they were introducing it to an audience who had never heard “Tonight” from “West Side Story” or “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita. For me, the stand-out performer is Tony Yazbeck who went from a wide-eyed, beautifully sung WSS Tony to a reflective Buddy in the “Follies” sequence. Brandon Uranowitz brings a freshness to the Emcee in “Cabaret.” One of the treats from lesser known Prince creation, “You’ve Got Possibilities” from “It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman,” was deliciously delivered by Michael Xavier and Janet Dacal. If there’s an award for adaptability, it should go to Chuck Cooper. He goes from Tevye’s “If I Were a Rich Man” to “Ol’ Man River” to “My Friends” (Sweeney Todd’s tribute to his razor blades) – all carried out totally “in character.”
There is also a bit of a “Catch 22” for the singers in this Broadway potpourri. They are singing these songs to replicate their impact in the productions that Prince produced. So it is quite natural to think of the late and very great Barbara Cook as Bryonha Marie Parham beautifully delivers “Will He Like Me?” from “She Loves Me.” Ms. Parham is given another classic memory to compete with in the title song from “Cabaret,” although, ironically she is not up against the original Broadway Sally Bowles (Jill Haworth) but the unforgettable Liza Minelli in the film. However, Ms. Parham provides good competition with those recollections, bringing her own take on these memorable numbers as well as “Show Boat’s” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.”.
As with any retrospective, the memory that each number triggers inside the head of each audience member depends on how that audience member first experienced each of the shows –the original production, a revival, a road company, etc. And some of those memories might not have been Hal Prince’s original production. Yet is was the Prince of Broadway who made the shows part of the history of great musicals.
There is not a weak number in the show. But it does go on too long — there is too much of a good thing. But after two hours and fifty minutes you leave the theatre satisfied, even if this tribute fails to go beyond a pleasing review of songs from Hal Prince’s Broadway creations without capturing the genius behind their original incarnation.