Sunday, August 27, 2017

Review of "Prince of Broadway"

There have been few musicals that have celebrated Broadway’s greatest hits.  The last show to be produced was the 1989 Tony Award winning Jerome Robbins Broadway.  While spotlighting the innovative and creative output of the renowned choreographer there was also a cavalcade of songs from such musicals as The King and I, On the Town, High Button Shoes, and Peter Pan.

This past week another greatest hit package opened on The Great White Way.  The Prince of Broadway, a marvelously entertaining musical, featuring a very talented musical theater cast, presents moments from shows produced or directed by the legendary Hal Prince. [Trivia Question answer—Mr. Prince has won the most Tony Awards in history at 21]. 

With dozens of productions to his credit—beginning with Damn Yankees in 1955 through Lovemusik in 2007, there were many selections to choose from for the show.  The show is highly represented by the works of Stephen Sondheim (six) and includes such crowd-pleasing numbers as “Heart” from Damn Yankees, “Tonight” from West Side Story, “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music, and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita.

There is a very loose chronological order to the scenes.  Almost all of them are introduced with factoids written by librettist David Thompson.  The songs can be rousing (“If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof), heartfelt (“Ol’ Man River” from Show Boat), comedic (“You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman), and dramatic (“Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera).

While there is no question about the entertainment value of this thoroughly enjoyable show, it does suffer, slightly, from the lack of a compelling storyline to help keep the audience’s attention continuously focused at a heightened level. 

My one quibble with the show is the song selection.  It’s a pointless discussion to have since everyone will have their favorites but, with that said, I would have preferred more variety, less Sondheim.  Maybe something from Baker Street or On the Twentieth Century or Flora, the Red Menace could have been included.

The cast, filled with Broadway musical veterans and some newcomers, is superb.  Their level of artistry and professionalism is outstanding.  If I had to choose a few standouts—and this in no way minimizes any of the other actors and actresses—I would single out three.  First, Karen Ziemba, who so beautifully performs one of my favorite songs from Cabaret with the wistful “So What” and gives a winning comic turn with “The Worst Pies in London” from Sweeney Todd.  Second, is Tony Yazbeck who has the lone dance number of the show, delivering a blistering routine to “The Right Girl” from Follies.  Lastly, is Bryonha Marie Parham whose powerhouse vocals in songs from Cabaret and Show Boat resonate powerfully throughout the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

Directors Susan Stroman and Hal Prince have rendered beautifully conceived vignettes that showcase the vocal talents of the performers.  They skillfully and adroitly keep the flow of the show constant, crafting a well-paced rhythm to the work.  The scenes are handsomely dressed up with unpretentious, but effective scenic designs by Beowulf Boritt that convey the settings without being intrusive or overwrought.

As choreographer, Stroman shines with the tour de force number from Follies.  Disappointingly, there are no other songs with captivating dance routines.  A few more would have added variety and zip to the overall production.

The Prince of Broadway, an engaging and finely-tuned tribute to one of the legendary showman of Broadway.

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