By Karen Isaacs
Follies, Evita, Sweeney Todd, Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Cabaret – the list is endless of shows that Hal Prince either directed or produced or both.
So a Broadway show that includes scenes from all these should be terrific. Right? Unfortunately, while Prince of Broadway has many delightful moments, the sum of its parts doesn’t add up to a hit show.
Why is hard to determine. Certainly the cast of the Manhattan Theater Club production (now at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through Oct 22) includes top notch musical theater talent – Tony Yazbeck, Brandon Uranowitz, Emily Skinner, Karen Ziemba and more.
Yet this evening that uses Prince’s biography to string together scenes from both hit and flop shows, only sometimes catches fire.
The show gets off to a slow start. The overture, arranged by composer Jason Robert Brown lists 17 songs as being included, yet somehow it was hard to identify many of them. It seemed as only phrase or two was included.
Throughout the show, various cast members, each speaking as if he or she were Hal Prince, detail parts of his biography. It opens with some bio and then just a snitch of the first show he was involved in – The Pajama Game. We hear a few bars of “Hey, There” but we see no-one. From there were are on to a well sung, but somehow lifeless rendition of “Heart” from Damn Yankees.
The show begins to gather some momentum with West Side Story, the first show Prince produced; at that point chronology goes out the window. Why the remainder of the show is organized the way it is, is a mystery. It seems relatively random.
So what are the highlights? Each member of the nine person cast has moments that are terrific. Kaley Ann Voorhees is a luminous Maria in “Tonight” from West Side Story and Janet Dacal is hilarious doing “You’ve Got Possibilities “ from It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman. She’s also a very good Eva Peron and Aurora (Kiss of the Spider Woman). Byronha Marie Parkham does her best work as Amalia in She Loves Me with “Will He Like Me?”
Tony Yazbeck once again demonstrates not only his exceptional dance talent, but also his strong voice. He’s Tony in West Side Story, Che in Evita, and with a nod to Jason Robert Brown, Leo in Parade. Since I had never seen nor heard the entire show, his rendition of “It’s Not Over Yet” was a highlight for me. It is an exceptionally moving song. But the extended dance number in Follies, while well executed doesn’t seem to have a purpose beyond showing off his skills.
Once again, I was delighted with the performance of Brandon Uranowitz,as the Emcee in Cabaret, George in She Loves Me and Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Chuck Cooper scored with songs from Showboat and as Sweeny Todd, though his Tevye was not as good.
Michael Xavier has followed up his performance as Joe in the recent Sunset Boulevard with some excellent work as the Phantom, Bobby in Company and Fredrik in A Little Night Music.
The first act closing number, a series of songs from Cabaret was terrific. Not only was Brandon Uranowitz is excellent as the Emcee but Karen Ziemba gave us two characters – the gorilla in “If You Could See Her” and a touching Fraulien Schneider is “So What?” Her performance as Mrs. Lovett in “The Worst Pies in London” was a highlight of the second act. These are two roles I hope some director casts Ziemba in very soon.
Emily Skinner’s best number is“The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company; her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” is very good but not outstanding.
Certainly the production values are excellent. Beowulf Boritt (scenic and production
design) and William Ivey Long (costume design) have handled the huge task for recreating moods for these diverse shows in different periods and location with finesse. As has Howell Binnkley with the lighting design.
Susan Stroman is credited as both choreographer and co-director with Prince himself.
Although I just wish that Prince of Broadway had somehow caught fire more than did, it is still a very enjoyable evening in the theater – revisiting favorite musicals or discovering some new ones.
It is at the Manhattan Theater Club, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th Street. Tickets are available through Telecharge.