By Sandi Durell
If you’re expecting deep-rooted insights into the extraordinary producer-director Harold Prince’s life story, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you want to relive the musical memories of some of the hits and flops of his seven decades in theater, with a cast that will many times blow the roof off, you’ve come to the right place.
The Prince of Broadway, co-directed by Hal Prince and Susan Stroman with arrangements by Jason Robert Brown and book by David Thompson, is a tribute to the man who has been in the biz for 60 plus years turning out some of the best of Broadway and a few, I’m sure, he’d like to sweep under the rug. But, no matter, the musical hits are what this is all about. Prince, now 89 years old, is a twenty-one time Tony Award winner.
The 36 songs are performed by nine spectaculars including Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voohries, Michael Xavier, Tony Yazbeck and Karen Ziemba. It doesn’t get much better! It’s a big ole revue with little narrative whereby each of the performers comes forth as Hal, offering up a few words between the numbers (each wearing the signature glasses on their heads – a bit strange/silly) that make up two and half hours that fly by.
There are real showstoppers that include Tony Yazbeck as Buddy (Follies, 1971) not only singing “The Right Girl,” but performing a sizzling and electrifying tap dance I wished could go on and on. Bryonha Marie Parham is spectacular in a powerhouse rendition of “Cabaret” (Cabaret, 1966) and sassy “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” (Show Boat, 1994). But my hat is off to Emily Skinner who takes your breath away as Joanne in Company (1970), vying for first position with Elaine Stritch singing “Ladies Who Lunch.”
Chuck Cooper and Karen Ziemba are bloody perfection, as Ziemba reenacts the wry Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd’s (1979) “The Worst Pies in London.”
Brandon Uranowitz is a show stealer taking on the role of the Emcee in “Willkommen” (Cabaret, 1966) and George in “Tonight at Eight” (She Loves Me, 1963) where his comic chops are a stand out. The resonant Chuck Cooper interprets Show Boat’s (1994) ‘Ol’ Man River’ with some lyric updates, the verses Paul Robeson sang in the 1936 film version, and Janet Dacal is a vocal force along with Michael Xavier in a cutsy “You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane … It’s Superman (1966). Kaley Ann Voorhees shows off her lovely soprano as Maria in “Tonight” (West Side Story,1957).
And there are lack-lusters including “Evita” and “Phantom of the Opera” that come across as rigid.
Mr. Prince, in his Director’s note, talks about his amazing luck, taking his life theater learning from George Abbott and the happenstance of a young upstart Stephen Sondheim at his very beginnings. Yes, it’s a lot about luck, but it’s more about the talent of Hal Prince who made it all gel once his creative hand touched theater.
The rest of the team includes Beowulf Boritt’s set design with costumes by William Ivey Long; lighting by Howell Binkley and sound by Jon Weston. Hair and wigs are by Paul Huntley.
Photos: Matthew Murphy
Prince of Broadway at Manhattan Theater Club, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47 Street, thru October 22.