Prince of Broadway

| August 29, 2017

Prince of Broadway

Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, NYC, Aug. 25, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Photos by Matthew Murphy

(L-R) Karen Ziemba, Emily Skinner, Chuck Cooper, Tony Yazbeck

Even with its faults, Prince of Broadway is an evening of sumptuous entertainment, spectacular performances, and surprising moments of beauty. How can you resist a show that overwhelms you with more than 60 years of the music that put the gold into Broadway’s golden age? How can you not love a show that starts off with that familiar, old-time harmonizing from Damn Yankees, “Heart,” sung by four current theater favorites: Brandon Uranowitz, Michael Xavier, Chuck Cooper, and Tony Yazbeck? 

If that does not take your mind, and heart, away from the political fracas and hurricane season, nothing will. And you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Prince of Broadway is a salute to producer/director Harold Prince, winner of 21 Tony Awards. He brought to the theater landmark shows—West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, Company—with two mentioned as favorites, Follies and a 1993 revival of the landmark Show Boat. Prince directs this salute himself, with co-direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, David Thompson’s book, with music arrangement, supervision, orchestration and new music by Jason Robert Brown. 

Brandon Uranowitz

However, this show is not an in-depth exploration of the mind, vision or creativity of Hal Prince. Unless you read the Director’s Notes, you are not going to learn much about the man and his life. Thompson’s book is scant, depending on comments, allegedly by Prince, spoken by the performers who stride out, one by one, eyeglasses perched on heads, and quip, “Never underestimate luck. Luck is being born at the right time in the right place.” Or, “You can take your audience wherever YOU want to take them.”

Another quote, “Work with the best – that doesn’t mean the most famous – but the best. Then ask the question – “What if?” You cast Chuck Cooper as Tevye singing “If I Were a Rich Man” (Fiddler on the Roof) stressing the universality of the Jewish milkman. Cooper has another highlight with “Ol’ Man River” from Show Boat, where he does not sing the familiar lines, “Ah gits weary /An’ sick of tryin’ /Ah’m tired of livin’ /An’ skeered of dyin’.” Instead, he sings the lyrics chosen by Paul Robeson in 1938, “I keeps laughing /instead of crying/ I must keep fighting /until I’m dying.”  (Which version lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II wrote for the original 1927 production is arguable.) 

Bryonha Marie Parham (L) & Kaley Ann Voorhees

The beautifully staged musical segments represent the best of the best, performed by talents not identified with the original shows. Tony Yazbeck proves himself a triple-threat talent with his  high-powered, tap-athon search for “The Right Girl” from Follies, his dancing aggressively muscular, but his face desolate, realizing that his girl is not the right one. Michael Xavier shows matinee idol prowess as Bobby, the eternal bachelor singing “Being Alive” in Company. 

Irrepressible Brandon Uranowitz brings a hopeful pizzazz to George in “Tonight at Eight” (She Loves Me) and dons white face make-up as a splendid Emcee in Cabaret with “Willkommen” and “If You Could See Her,” dancing with Karen Ziemba clad in a gorilla suit. 

Let’s add here a salute to costume designer William Ivey Long, who fashioned the gorilla get-up to slip off, leaving Ziemba as drab Fraulein Schneider singing a matter-of-fact, “So What?” Ziemba later morphs into an indelibly wide-eyed Mrs. Lovett for Sweeney Todd. Long also detailed the dazzling Follies girls, defining Emily Skinner’s Phyllis in a drop-dead soignée scarlet gown and Ziemba’s Sally in a flirty ’40s swing dress. Bryonha Marie Parham shows she can take any song she is given and wring it dry, attacking “Cabaret” with passion, and “Will He Like Me?” (She Loves Me) with shivery anticipation. Janet Dacal is lithe and agile with physical comedy twists in “You’ve Got Possibilities” (It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman), which ran for 129 performances and was one of Hal Prince’s failures.

With eight flops in a row, he certainly showed determination. 

Emily Skinner

Outstanding is Emily Skinner’s blazing Company toast to women of the 1970s, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” with all the immediacy of the era. “Send in the Clowns” (A Little Night Music) is impressive, as is her sardonic “Now You Know” (Merrily We Roll Along). Kaley Ann Voorhees appears as soprano love interest in West Side Story and a strangely listless The Phantom of the Opera

With Beowulf Boritt’s imaginative scenic and projection designs, zoned-in lighting by Howell Binkley, and Paul Huntley’s hair and wig designs, 16 standout shows from the Prince portfolio evoke the days when they were shiny and new, yet but prove they still stand up today.  Memorably, all the creative elements gather for sequences in the breathtaking staging of the Follies sequence, bringing in the glamour of the era playing against the show’s melancholy essence. What if you saw the original Follies, Company or Evita? As the song says, “So What?” Check the program notes or the internet to learn about Hal Prince, but, if you love the great songs of the American theater, this is a show to be enjoyed for the first or any time.

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Category: Broadway Reviews, Musical Theatre Reviews, New York City, New York City Musical Theatre Reviews, Regional

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