The Prince of Broadway
Co-direction and choreography by Susan Stroman; directed by Harold Prince
Performances through October 22, 2017
|Karen Ziemba and Chuck Cooper recreate Sweeney Todd in The Prince of Broadway (photo: Matthew Murphy)|
Harold Prince has had such a remarkable Broadway run it’s impossible to shoehorn his decades of musical hits—and occasional flop—into a couple of hours onstage. So The Prince of Broadway—the anthology Prince created with co-director/choreographer Susan Stroman—doesn’t even try, giving audiences a greatest hits compilation (with a few curveballs thrown in) that provides a commendable overview of Prince’s career.
Since Prince had a hand in dozens of shows from Damn Yankees and West Side Story to Fiddler on the Roof and Company (not to mention Show Boat, Follies, Phantom of the Opera and Kiss of the Spider Woman), it was likely tough to decide what to include and what to omit. The above-mentioned shows made the cut, along with The Pajama Game, She Loves Me, A Little Night Music, Cabaret, Evita, Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd, and even Parade and the mid-‘60s flop It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman!
There are restaged sequences from these shows, often—but not always—their “classic” numbers, which tends toward imbalance whenever we don’t hear such songs from other shows. Having “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita and “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music is all well and good, but such showstoppers take the focus off Prince’s innovative stagings and instead shine a light on, say, composers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim.
There’s also been a nod toward making The Prince of Broadway more than a string of unconnected highlights, so all nine energetic cast members take turns walking onstage as Prince and relate some engaging bon mots or enlightening statements about his career and theater in general.
But this conceit isn’t used to its fullest extent; at times we should hear from one of the faux Princes to set up certain numbers, but instead there’s simply a clunky segue to the next. And the routine finale, Jason Robert Brown’s song “Do the Work,” simply isn’t stylish enough to satisfyingly wrap up the show.
Still, great moments are scattered throughout, and no one can begrudge Prince and Stroman wanting to include as much as possible without making it four hours long. And the cast performs with incomparable zest, even if some aren’t perfect for the roles they assay.
Chuck Cooper absolutely kills “Ol’ Man River” from Showboat, but is on less secure ground for Fiddler’s “If I Was a Rich Man” and a Sweeney Todd trio. Cooper’s Sweeney costar, the magnificent Karen Ziemba, is a delightful Mrs. Lovett, and also gives it the old college try as the gorilla in Cabaret.
Michael Xavier and Janet Dacal are a funny, sexy couple in the Superman segment, but the otherwise accomplished Dacal doesn’t come within hailing distance of Patti Lupone in Evita or Chita Rivera and Vanessa Williams in Kiss of the Spider Woman when she takes on “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” and the latter’s title song.
Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner and Kaley Ann Voorhees show off superior pipes in various numbers, but the cast’s MVP goes to Tony Yazbeck for his versatility and virtuosity, especially during the seemingly endless and sweat-inducing tap-dance number, “The Right Girl” in Follies, for which he deservedly brings down the house and puts a stop to the entire show.
Though not the stage extravaganza that both Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and Fosse were, The Prince of Broadway has an intimacy that serves its creator’s more subtle approach, despite its hiccups.
The Prince of Broadway
Samuel Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York, NY