Review: ‘Prince of Broadway’ at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

By Jonathan Spira on 9 October 2017
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Harold Prince, a theatrical producer and director with 21 Tony Awards and who is associated with many of the best-known and most successful Broadway shows of the 20th century, is far too big a persona to be portrayed by just one actor. Indeed, it takes an entire ensemble to portray him.

In “Prince of Broadway,” a retrospective of his life, every cast member takes a turn portraying Mr. Prince wearing a rather hipsterish black-and-white outfit with glasses perched atop their heads, perhaps to signify that Prince was a director. Pithy maxims taken from the Director’s Note in the program penned by Prince reflect on his amazing “luck” at the start of his career, which began in the mid-1950s, at a time when the cost of mounting “an elegant Broadway musical” was a mere $250,000 and when the great director-producer George Abbott was able to serve as his mentor.

“Sometimes, I think I got in just under the wire, when the theater was central to the entertainment industry,” he pines.

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As each cast member strides on stage, generally in between extended scenes from 15 shows Prince collaborated on, the audience is taken on a whirlwind tour of some of the best the Great White Way has offered, with splendid musical arrangements by Jason Robert Brown, a bedazzling set of sets by Beowulf Boritt, and divine costumes by William Ivey Long, all paying homage to the original productions of their respective shows.

The hard-working ensemble has to don multiple personas beyond that of Mr. Prince. In the course of this 150-minute variety show, Chuck Cooper plays Sweeney Todd, Tevye the Milkman (with a rather creepy shimmy) from “Fiddler”, and Joe from “Show Boat,” Bryonha Maria Parham portrays a memorable Sally Bowles from “Cabaret,” Michael Xavier is a credible masked Phantom, Kaley Ann Vorhees is an equally credible Christine in “Phantom” as well as Maria in “West Side Story,” and Janet Dacal is Evita, at first with no Spanish accent and then a clearly non-Argentine Spanish accent.

Even with the incredible amount of talent on stage, the three standouts were Brandon Uranowitz’s creepy Emcee from “Cabaret,” Karen Ziemba’s poignant rendition of “So What?” as Frau Schneider from the same show, and the electrifying Emily Skinner (of “Side Show” fame) whose mocking take on “The Ladies Who Lunch” created a true visual of the wealthy women who waste the years in the prime of their lives engaged in non-meaningful pursuits.

While the majority of the scenes are so good they will send you in search of the cast album if not a revival, a few (“Superman” comes to mind) serve as a reminder of why Prince (as one of the actors portraying him explains) would always schedule a meeting for his next project immediately following the opening night of the current production, in case it flops. In addition, without a segue between one show and another beyond a few pithy words from one of the ensemble playing Prince, the context is somewhat lost and it becomes more of a smorgasbord than anything else.

“In those days, there was an atmosphere of ease, camaraderie, and community,” he concludes his Director’s Note with. “In my early 20s, I found myself in the company of giants.”

THE DETAILS

Prince of Broadway
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
New York, N.Y.
Runtime: Two hours and 30 min.
www.princeofbway.com/

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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