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
Falsettos which is now being revived on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theater, is a show that has a devoted cult following. The musical by James Lapine (book) and William Finn (music, lyrics and book) began life as two one-act musicals dealing with the same set of characters: Marvin, Whizzer, Jason, Mendel and Trina.
The first was March of the Falsettos which was set in 1979 and produced in 1981. In 1990, Falsettoland was produced even though it is set in 1981, just two years later.
In 1991, Hartford Stage produced what is now Falsettos by putting the two one-act musicals together. A different production of the “new” show opened on Broadway in 1992.
Falsettos tells the story of Marvin who leaves his wife (Trina) for his younger lover Whizzer; Jason is their early-teen son and Mendel is the psychiatrist that becomes an integral part of the family. Act one the original March of the Falsettos) deals with the adjustments to the new reality of Marvin and Whizzer, Jason, Trina and Mendel.
Act two (Falsettoland) has a totally different sensibility; Trina and Mendel are married, two new characters, the lesbian couple Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia have become friends with them and Marvin and Whizzer have broken up. But Jason still wants Whizzer as part of his life, plus the AIDS epidemic is hitting hard and Whizzer is one of its victims.
I saw the original Hartford Stage production but had not seen the show since. So I was curious if it would hold up in the very different climate of today. HIV-AIDS is less in the news and gay couples and marriage seem almost mainstream.
James Lapine has directed a superb cast, Christian Borle is Marvin with Andrew Rannells as Whizzer, Stephanie J. Block as Trina and Brandon Uranowitz as Mendel.
Of the two halves, the second half surprisingly holds up better than the first half. Perhaps this is because more happens and there is more emotional punch. The first act is almost a sitcom: Marvin’s break up with Trina and the adjustments of all to the new living arrangements. It seemed rather ordinary with the exception Trini’s show stopping number “I’m Having a Breakdown.”
But the second half, which might be expected to seem the most dated, instead felt the most fresh and new.
Director James Lapine has in some cases replicated the original production. The set, by David Rockwell is a series of adult size blocks that the characters rearrange just as they rearrange their lives during the course of the play. The New York skyline is the backdrop. The lighting by Jeff Croiter is excellent.
At first it is hard to like Marvin, played by Christian Borle – he seems self-centered and demanding; as though he doesn’t realize the upheaval he has caused in so many lives. But as time goes on Borle lets us see a man who unsure of his new life and somewhat guilty about it, particularly what it has done to his wife and son. Yet he still remains callous in many ways. Borle does his best to make the character sympathetic but there is only so much that can be done.
Andrew Rannell as Whizzer succeeds better in showing all sides of the character. From the almost stereotypical “hunk” not really interested in monogamy, to the man who befriends Jason and supports him, to the philosophically resigned AIDS victim, Rannells creates a character who grows and matures.
As Trina, Stephanie J. Block gives us a woman who is a survivor. But wouldn’t she be more angry and hurt? It seems as though in the first act she is more harried than in pain over the unexpected demise of her marriage. Certainly Block handles the music excellently; she emphasizes the belting aspects of the role.
Anthony Rosenthal keeps Jason from just a “wise-beyond-his-years” annoying kid into a boy on the brink of manhood.
Although the role is somewhat stereotypical, Brandon Uranowitz imbues Mendel with a distinct personality beyond “the shrink.”
Tracie Thomas and Betsy Wolfe play the lesbian couple – Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia. The roles are minimal in terms of contributing to the action except to show the creation of a new family. I’ve always pondered the significance of Cordelia’s name.
Anyone who has lived through the death of a loved one, will find the second act emotionally draining. Yet others may wonder if it isn’t a little too manipulative of the audience’s feelings.
Falsettos attracts passionate fans and then there are those, myself included, who are less enthralled with it. It’s a well-written show but somehow, it is not a show that I can feel passionate about.
Falsettos is at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th Street. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.
By Karen Isaacs.
Finally I have seen a new Broadway musical production that I can urge you to immediately plan on seeing. An American in Paris has just about everything: great music, a literate book, inventive sets, lighting, costumes, a cast that is simply marvelous and direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon.
As the cast sings at the end of the curtain calls, “Who could ask for anything more?” I can’t.
The show is an adaptation of the famous 1951 film that starred Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant about an American who goes to Paris to become an artist, meets a cynical American (Levant) who is a pianist, and falls in love with a French girl (Caron). The music was Gershwin’s and the book was by Alan J. Lerner. The highlight of the film was the dance—including a ballet toward the end using Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”
Craig Lucas has reworked the book and I think improved it. The show has been moved from the early ‘50s to just after the end of WWI. Our GI (Jerry Mulligan) misses the train that will take him home because he is sketching and pursuing a young woman he has only seen but is captivated by. He winds up in a café where he meets a young American composer/pianist (Adam Hochberg) and a Frenchman (Henri Baurel) who wants to be a cabaret singer but is afraid to tell his rather straight laced parents who expect him to take over the family fabric business. They proclaim themselves “the three musketeers.”
The girl (Lise Dassin) is still a major part of the plot. She is a ballet dancer and somehow – we don’t know how for much of the show– she knows Henri’s parents who treat her as a daughter. He is in love with her but lacks the courage to ask her to marry him. Through a connection between Henri’s mother and a wealthy youngish American woman (Milo Davenport) who wants to support the arts, Lise auditions for a prestigious dance company and is hired. Milo also ensures that Adam, who is the pianist for the company gets the opportunity to write a ballet and Jerry to design the sets.
We have three men — Henri, Jerry and Adam all smitten with the same girl –Lise– but not aware of each other’s interests. Did a mention that Lise just happens to be the girl Jerry was sketching when he missed the train?
You can easily figure out what can happen –including that Milo will takes more than a platonic interest in Jerry. But Craig Lucas who wrote the book has added in some nice twists.
Dialogue is relatively minimal and much of the story is told through the dances choreographed by Wheeldon. The opening, to Gershwin’s Concerto in F, sets the entire scene — from the arrival of the GIs, the liberation of Paris, the punishment of a young woman who had been involved with the Nazis, to Jerry’s sketching, seeing Lise and pursuing her, missing the train and deciding to stay in Paris.
Scenic designer Bob Crowley (who also did the costumer) has collaborated brilliantly with 59 Projections who has done projections. The result is a flexible, every moving set with projections that help set the scenes and add to our understanding of the story without distracting us. Natasha Katz’ s lighting designs are also excellent as is the sound design by Jon Weston. A few quibbles about the costumes — not all reflect the late 40’s fashion with some of them more ’50s inspired and the French characters look much too well dressed for people who have gone through the deprivation of the war and
occupation. But this minor and it is, after all, a musical.
You cannot talk about the cast without also talking about Christopher Wheeldon who both directed and choreographed. A former principal dancer with both the Royal Ballet and the New York City Ballet, he has been choreographing for years but this is an auspicious directing debut. We can only hope he does not get side tracked to films or television but brings his immense talent to Broadway frequently.
Jerry Mulligan played by Robert Fairchild, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, displays not only charm but a very attractive voice and good acting skills. But of course it is his dancing that will take your breath away. Leanne Cope who plays Lise is also primarily a ballet dancer who has been with the Royal Ballet. Again her acting is fine and her voice adequate for the role which has many fewer vocal numbers than Fairchild. He is obviously the primary character; after all it IS the Gene Kelly role.
The supporting actors are excellent. Brandon Uranowitz gives Adam an edge while also singing and dancing well. You realize it is the Oscar Levant character but he makes the role his own. Max Von Essen has charm, a delightful voice and conveys Henri’s uncertainties and lack of confidence. Jill Paice plays Milo Davenport without turning her into a “dragon lady”. She carries more of the singing than Cope — getting to do “Shall We Dance?” “Who Cares?” and “But Not for Me.” As Henri’s mother, Veanne Cox projects the nervousness of someone who has realized how dangerous the world is.
The entire company dances up a storm. This is definitely a dance musical and it is really a ballet musical.
When you combine all the elements including Rob Fisher’s adaptations and arrangements, and the wonderful Gershwin music from the “Concerto in F” to the “Second Rhapsody” and “Cuban Overture” as well as the songs, and you then add in the terrific cast, choreography and direction — the result is a musical that you must see.
An American in Paris is at the Palace Theatre on Broadway at 47th St., Tickets are available through Ticketmaster