Tag Archives: Tony Yazbeck

Prince of Broadway –Looking Back at a Long, Successful Career

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Karen Ziemba, Emily Skinner, Chuck Cooper, Tony Yazbeck. Photo by Matthew Murphy

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.

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Janet Dacal Photo by Matthew Murphy

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

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Emily Skinner. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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.

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Tony Yazbeck, Kaley Ann Voorhees. Photo by Matthew Murphy

 

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‘On the Town’ — Exuberant Love Letter to NYC

Photo by Joan Marcus

Photo by Joan Marcus

By Karen Isaacs

 The Broadway revival of On the Town demonstrates why, when the show first hit Broadway in 1944, everyone took note.

This was introducing a new youthful exuberance to the Broadway Theater.  The four people most involved in its origination:  Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and choreographer Jerome Robbins were 26, 27, 30 and 28 respectively. These were new voices being heard.

The musical itself was based on the Bernstein-Robbins ballet for the American Ballet Theater earlier in 1944 about three sailors in New York City for just 24 hours.  Comden and Green, whom Bernstein had worked with in Greenwich Village where, along with Judy Holliday, they had performed as “The Revuers,” were brought in to flesh out the plot and to write the book and lyrics.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Jay Armstrong Johnson, Tony Yazbeck and CLyde Alves. Photo by Joan Marcus

The story remained the same but additional characters and complications were added.   Three sailors are on 24- hour leave in New York City, each looking to find a girl.   Gabey — who seems to be the first among equals — falls for the picture of Ivy Smith, “Miss Turnstiles” – the ordinary girl who is selected to represent the subways for the month.  He is determined to track her down; he and his friends split up, each looking for her in different parts of the city.

Over the course of the 24 hours each of them has various adventures as they search the city — mainly Manhattan; each finds  love.

Ozzie is the cerebral one, wanting to see all of NYC’s sights in one day.  He ends up meeting Claire, an “unusual” anthropologist at the Museum of Natural History.  Chip, who is the smooth talking sailor meets Hildy, a confident taxi driver while Gabey actually does find Ivy, his Miss Turnstiles.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

This production directed by John Rando and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse keeps the youthful energy that the original production must have had.

One of the most delightful things about this production is the scenic and projection design by Beowulf Boritt which captures all of NYC’s vibrancy and individual neighborhoods.  You do get a true sense of the city. His vision is aided by the lighting design of Jason Lyons and the costumes of Jess Goldstein — though those could have been more mid-1940s in styles.

An ensemble company plays multiple roles. In particular Jackie Hoffman and Stephen DeRosa do triple and quintuple duty in a variety of comic roles.  Hoffman plays everything from an irate old woman, to a alcoholic voice teacher while DeRose is hilarious as various emcees.

Tony Yazbeck shines as Gabey.  Connecticut audiences will remember him in the Tommy Tune role in My One and Only at Goodspeed several years ago for which he won a Connecticut Critics Circle award. He has been with this show since its production a year agor at Barrington Stage Company and the experience shows. He totally encapsulates Gabey.  Plus he is a fine dancer and also demonstrates strong vocal skills.

Megan Fairchild and TonyYazbeck. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Megan Fairchild and TonyYazbeck. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The other two sailors: Chip played by Jay Armstrong Johnson and Ozzie played by Clyde Alves (who was also in the Barrington production)  are also strong singers and dancers as well as displaying deft comic skills.

Megan Fairchild is Ivy Smith, more of a dancing role. She is certainly an expert at that.  Fairchild is a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet.  But she handles the acting and the limited singing nicely.  She also projects the genuineness of this “ordinary New York woman.”

The other two female roles are more exaggerated and more comic.  Elizabeth Stanley plays the anthropologist, Claire De Loone as the slightly schizophrenic character she is.  While seeing her and Ozzie interact it is useful to remember that Comden and Green originated these roles on Broadway.

Jay Armstrong Johnson and Alysha Umphress. Photo by Joan Marcus

Jay Armstrong Johnson and Alysha Umphress. Photo by Joan Marcus

Alysha Umphress is also reprising her role as Hildy – the man-hungry, taxi driver who takes up with Chip.

Any Bernstein score is bound to be filled with wonderful tunes.  Most are familiar with “New York, New York” — a love song to the city but you will discover a treasure trove of other songs.  While “Carried Away” is not a favorite of mine, there’s also “I Can Cook, Too,”  “Lucky to Be Me,:  “So Long Baby” and the beautiful and melancholy “Some Other Time.”

Yet for me, this is a show that has never quite “worked..”  In converting the ballet to a musical, there are numerous ballet/dance sequences including the requisite for 1940s musicals, a dream ballet.  It’s not that the dancing isn’t terrific or that the dance music isn’t great.  The problem, for me, is that the dance mainly repeats action that has already taken place on stage rather than advance the plot or provide us with more insight into the characters.

I’ve always thought that this was a show that needed editing — either some of the dance sequences should be cut OR some of the songs/dialogue.

Still, this is an exuberant production of a show that celebrates what many of us consider the greatest city in the world.

On the Town is at the Lyric Theater on 42nd Street. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

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