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.
By Karen Isaacs
When I entered the Longacre Theater to see the new musical A Bronx Tale, I may have been the only person there who had never experienced the work before.
Most of you are familiar with the material either from the 1993 film of the same name that marked Robert De Niro’s directing debut or from the one-man show that was the inspiration of the movie. The one man play and film were both written by Chazz Palminteri and is based on his life. He has performed the one man show since its conception in the late‘80s into the 21st century.
A Bronx Tale is a coming-of-age story of a young man, Calogero, who is growing up in the1960s in a very Italian section of the Bronx. It begins when Calogero as a young boy (8 to 10 years old) sees a mafia hit. He refuses to identify the shooter (the local boss Sonny) to the police; thereafter Sonny takes a liking to the boy considering him almost a good luck charm. As Calogero grows up, he is drawn to the glamour and excitement of Sonny’s life despite the efforts of his bus driver father to lure him away. But we have a happy ending; Sonny both protects Calogero and pushes him away from the gangster life that some of his friends are embracing. The story ends with Sonny’s death and the reconciliation of Sonny and his father, Lorenzo.
Palminteri has written the book for the musical with musical by Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid and more shows) and lyrics by Glenn Slater (Little Mermaid, Sister Act, School of Rock). It’s co-directed by DeNiro and Jerry Zaks, who certainly knows his way around a musical. It would be interesting to know who contributed what.
The result of this talented group is a musical that may not set the world on fire, but will provide a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment. In many ways it is a somewhat old-fashioned musical: no rap or hip-hop, there’s actual dialogue not sung-through lyrics, and a satisfying ending.
If you won’t be humming the music as you leave the theater, you will have enjoyed it while listening and would be fine with hearing it again.
Yet – and this is important – there is a lot that is very good about this show. Nick Cordero who plays Sonny is excellent. He infuses the character with both the assurance and moxie of a gangster but shows his softer side with his concern for Calogero. Calogero is played by Hudson Loverro (or Atthan Sporek) as a child and Bobby Conte Thornton as the late teenage.
Cordero can sing and dance yet still maintain the gangster persona; after all he won a Tony for the bodyguard/hit man in Bullets over Broadway. His rendition of “One of the Great One” – one of the best songs in the show – is terrific.
Thornton is making his Broadway debut and he certainly does a good job as the maturing
Calogero, or C as Sonny calls him. He shows him growing up, having his first love, hanging with his friends and then realizing that the glamour and easy money of the gangster life is neither glamourous nor easy.
Richard H. Blake, plays the hard-working, earnest father in a gentle, loving manner. Unfortunately the role is underwritten and disappears for long periods of time. Yet Blake lets you feel that man’s helplessness as Sonny’s lifestyle turns his son’s head.
Calogero’s mother, Lucia Giannetta, is another role that makes little impact. She seems there merely to provide a maternal gaze.
The musical borrows heavily from other shows, from the doo-wop group singing neath the streetlight to the interracial romance between Calogero and Jane which leads to some r and b music. There’s even a minor gang attack.
Production values are excellent. The lighting Howell Binkley baths the stage in colors that emphasize the action. Beowulf Boritt has created a set that firmly puts us in an Italian urban neighborhood. Sergio Trujillo gives us enjoyable if not super original choreography.
Despite all by criticisms, I enjoyed this show. Yes, I kept waiting for Joe Pesci and Frankie Vallee to show up, but it was fun. I loved the names of the various henchmen in Sonny’s gang – Eddie the Mush, JoJo the Whale, Frankie Coffeecake and more. Yes, it is reminiscent of Guys and Dolls but it was still fun and the actors did a great job with the roles.
A Bronx Tale is at the Longacre Theatre, 220 w. 48th Street. Tickets are available through Telecharge.