The conductor rises to the top of the pit and the overture swells. A medley of iconic musical theatre hits fill the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. It welcomes the audience to Prince of Broadway, a musical revue celebrating the work of legendary director and producer, Hal Prince. Gorgeous Sondheim standards, big Bernstein ballads and hallowed Harnick numbers all build excitement for what’s to come. Well, “Could be! Who knows?” (to quote one of those famed musicals, West Side Story), but we soon find out it’s not really what we had wanted.
The show opens with Brandon Uranowitz talking about Prince’s luck in the theater. Uranowitz is one in a company of eight, and he’s bookended by performers who have earned a broad spectrum of Broadway acclaim (the top end includes Karen Ziemba, Tony Yazbeck, Chuck Cooper and–new to that list—West End star Michael Xavier). When they are not singing, they alternate talking about Prince’s life and career, while wearing his signature eye glasses atop their heads. They, as Prince, say that working for nearly seven decades in this business is really all about luck: “So, luck is having someone–just one person you really respect–say: ‘You’re good. You can do this. Do it.’ Because God knows, there are a thousand people who will tell you that you can’t.”
What came from all that luck was more than 40 Broadway productions Prince produced and/or directed and over 20 Tony Award nominations. His first credit as a producer came in 1955 for The Pajama Game, and he’s been at it ever since with shows from West Side Story to Company and The Phantom Of The Opera and Parade.
Prince of Broadway (directed by Prince), allows the audience to experience (or re-experience) many of these famous musicals. It starts in the Damn Yankees baseball locker room, with the heavenly harmonized, “Heart.” Then the locker room turns around to reveal the back of a store in New York City. It’s time for a sampling from West Side Story.
Later, we get to the infamous Follies. Back when it debuted, in 1971, this musical was the most expensive of its time, and it never recouped. Still, Follies, which Prince says is one of his favorite shows, taught him a valuable lesson. As cast member Bryonha Marie Parham (impersonating Prince), explains: “Never confuse hits and flops with success and failure. You can have a hit that’s an artistic failure and a flop that’s an artistic success.”
So, according to Prince’s measure of theatrical success, how does Prince of Broadway measure up? It’s hard to say. The show has some great performances. Standouts include Emily Skinner’s rendition of “Send In The Clowns” (A Little Night Music) and “Ladies Who Lunch” (Company). And Brandon Uranowitz’s terrific “Willkommen” (Cabaret) will make you hope for another revival.
What’s missing from Prince of Broadway is some real drama. As entertaining as the numbers are, the production soon loses its luster and begins to get stale. There’s no connection between the songs and Prince; the show never manages to bring him from backstage to front and center. Prince just doesn’t pop. Perhaps another director who lives outside of the picture would have been better equipped to see the frame, and therefore tell a richer story.
Nevertheless, it is still fun to look back on Prince’s truly incredible repertoire of work, and the second act has a few moments that resuscitates the show a bit–albeit briefly. Hal Prince will be 90-years-old next year, and Prince of Broadway brings the director back to the boards for the first time in more than ten years. It’s a place where he will always be welcomed. And audiences will no doubt leave the Friedman Theater wondering with great anticipation for what’s next from this theatre royal.
Prince of Broadway is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater.