There’s no question 89 year-old producer/director Harold Smith Prince has had an extraordinary career. Starting as an unpaid dogsbody to the legendary George Abbott, Prince progressed from being influenced by the best in the business to influencing the best in the business. A creative talent of iconic proportion, he attributes much of his success to luck while acknowledging a succession of flops. These, of course, retrospectively pale in contrast to blockbusters that invented new form as well as sold tickets.
Prince of Broadway offers nine overworked thespians performing 35 numbers from 16 shows. In between, each one delivers brief snippets of the celebrant’s own words. David Thompson’s mostly unrevealing book would’ve been better served by a single actor.
Michael Xavier and the company in Company
Talent is extremely mixed. Chuck Cooper was undoubtedly hired to sing “Old Man River” (Showboat) and handles The Ballad of Sweeney Todd with gravitas if not volatility. He’s radically miscast as Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof). “If I Were a Rich Man” arrives with poor inflection, awkward movement and all-surface characterization. Bryonha Marie Parham delivers a jaunty “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” (Showboat), but over stresses everything else she’s given.
Brandon Uranowitz is adorable in “Tonight at Eight” (She Loves Me) and creates a touching, flamboyant Molina In Kiss of the Spider Woman, understanding the context of both roles. His Wiemar Emcee (Cabaret), however, lacks essential darkness and snap.
Michael Xavier makes a charming Clark Kent (It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman). As Fredrik in A Little Night Music, his accent is awful and nuance absent. In Phantom of the Opera, Xavier’s voice soars but lacks essential pain. The usually bankable Karen Ziemba is poorly utilized with- why include this at all?- “So What?” (Cabaret). Only glimpses in a Follies number and during her turn as Mrs. Lovett (The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.) show what she can do.
Bryonha Marie Parham and Kaley Ann Voorhees
Multi-talent Tony Yazbeck inhabits everyone from Tony in West Side Story to Leo Frank in Parade with skill, flair, and spot-on feeling. As Buddy in Follies, he’s forced to execute an endless tap number during “The Right Girl” that makes no earthly sense. Yazbeck can dance up a storm, but placement and length are disjointing mistakes.
Janet Decal and Kaley Ann Voorhees are bright spots every time they take the stage. Both deserve recognition and bigger roles. Decal displays singing, dancing, and comedic aptitude as foil to Clark Kent in It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman and is very differently compelling as Aurora in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Also showcasing range, Voorhees makes a lovely Maria (West Side Story), a perfect- and formerly cast Christine (Phantom of the Opera) and a fiery Eva Peron (Evita). Dancing and accent for the latter are splendid. The less said about Emily Skinner, especially doing her crass imitation of Elaine Stritch in Company, the better.
Tony Yazbeck and Kaley Ann Voorhees; Tony Yazbeck
Direction is responsible for erratic performance, rather astonishing considering Mr. Prince himself has the reins. Ham is often blatant, lack of character perception untenable. Group numbers from Damn Yankees, Company, and Follies fare better. Much of the audience seems to be unfamiliar with at least portion of these shows. When the Emcee of Cabaret, dancing with a female gorilla, ends “If You Could See Her” (with My Eyes), the appropriately shocking “she wouldn’t look Jewish at all,” evokes audible gasps. Clearly Charlottsville, rather than Germany is foremost in minds.
I have great admiration for Mr. Prince and wonderful memories of his shows. If only… Most of us remember these musicals. This one too often disappoints.
Beowulf Boritt’s Scenic and Projection Design is hit or miss. The Superman scrim is a hoot, both Evita and Phantom look like mini versions of the originals, Follies recalls grandma’s antimacassar.
William Ivey Long’s scenario Costumes are evocative and attractive on every front. I don’t quite understand the modish black and white outfits worn during narrative. Hair and Wig Design by Paul Huntley is first rate.
Arrangements, Orchestration and Music Supervision by Jason Robert Brown is excellent.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Opening: Karen Ziemba, Emily Skinner, Chuck Cooper, Tony Yazbeck in Follies
Manhattan Theatre Club presents
Prince of Broadway
Book -David Thompson
New Songs, Arrangements, Orchestration and Music Supervision-Jason Robert Brown
Director- Harold Prince
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street