NEW YORK — At 89, Harold Prince has a new musical, “Prince of Broadway,” on The Great White Way, at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theater on West 47th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue.
It’s a bio-revue of theater work that he has been producing and directing and entertaining us with over the past six decades.
Prince has nurtured some of Broadway’s most successful shows, like “The Pajama Game,” “West Side Story,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Cabaret,” “A Little Night Music,” “Evita,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and a slew of others too numerous to list. If you have seen Broadway musicals during the past 50 years, you probably have enjoyed many Prince productions.
For “Prince of Broadway,” he and Susan Stroman, his co-director and choreographer, have chosen the best musical numbers from a number of his shows and have picked a cast of brilliant actors to perform memorable moments. They also sing familiar melodies from some of Broadway’s finest composers and lyricists, such as Kandor and Ebb (“Cabaret”), Bock and Harnick (“Fiddler”) and stalwarts like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim and many others. A few have been given new arrangements and orchestrations by Jason Robert Brown, who’s also a talented composer of a Prince show from 1998, “Parade.”
From one scene to the next, this extraordinary troupe of nine actors plays an amazing variety of roles as the time periods and locales shift from Berlin in the 1930s in “Cabaret,” with Bryonha Marie Parham as Sally Bowles and Brandon Uranowitz as the cabaret’s emcee; to turn-of-the-century Sweden in “A Little Night Music,” with Emily Skinner as the actress Desiree; to London’s “Sweeney Todd,” with Karen Ziemba as Mrs. Lovett. Janet Darcal plays a stinging Eva Peron in “Evita” and Chuck Cooper lends his bravado tenor voice to some wonderful Jerome Kern and Sondheim ballads from “Sweeney Todd” and “Fiddler.” Michael Xavier and Kaley Ann Voorhees are perfect as The Phantom and Christine.
There is not too much dancing in “Prince of Broadway,” but Tony Yazbeck (who also acts and sings) has a chance in the “Follies” sequence to do an extended dance turn to Sondheim’s “The Right Girl” that becomes one of the show's highlight. It reminded me of an old- time movie dance solo by Gene Kelly.
The production has 200 costumes by William Ivy Long to help the cast get into the right time spans and complementary scenic designs by Beowolf Boritt. Lighting is by Howell Binkley.
A lot of people don't like revues; they find them incomplete, leaving them wanting a full show with a consistent dramatic arc and not just a group of unrelated fragments of different musical numbers.
For me, “Prince of Broadway” was exceptional in that genre, with a dazzling cast and Prince’s first-class material. Of course, I had seen the originals and many revivals of the shows. When I was 8, my parents took me into the Shubert Theater in Boston to see a tryout of a new musical, “The Pajama Game.” It was Prince's first effort in the producing world.
As a child, Prince had fallen in love with the theater by listening to Saturday matinees of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. He would do mock stagings with his toy soldiers on an improvised table stage. After college, he offered to work for free with Broadway theater czar of the day George Abbott. He ended up stage managing Abbot’s musicals and met his first producing partner, Robert Griffith.
In “Prince of Broadway,” he says how “lucky” he has been in the theater.
Prince always has been an autonomous icon among the Broadway folk: intelligent and uniquely courageous in an art form that seems to be second-guessing itself constantly. In a haphazard business, he has presided as a spirit of creative idealism and has staged not only musicals but plays and operas successfully.
“Prince of Broadway” is an entertaining walk down theatrical memory lane. Prince may feel “lucky,” but audience members like me feel lucky to have had a man who made the theater such a rich experience.
Bernard Carragher lives in New York and covers the arts and entertainment.