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New York City Theater

"Prince of Broadway"
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Just what does a director do anyway, besides move actors around?  What about producers, besides raising money? Audiences won’t find the answers in Manhattan Theater Club’s “Prince of Broadway,” the sincere, good-hearted but vacuous and unenlightening tribute to legendary director / producer Harold Prince. The 89-year-old showman, winner of a record-breaking 21 Tony Awards, deserves better.

Associated with historic hits from “The Pajama Game” through “Damn Yankees,” “West Side Story,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Cabaret,” “Evita” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” all of which (and more) are excerpted here, Prince was as responsible as anyone for daring, groundbreaking concept musicals that smashed formulas and gave us projects that were unlike anything else.

Since he didn’t write the lyrics, music or libretto, what exactly did he contribute to each production? The program doesn’t tell us. Nor do we learn why some of his shows were hits, others flops.

What narrative there is comes from the revue’s nine performers who, wearing glasses perched on tops of their heads, a la Prince, tell us tidbits: Prince’s first job (employed by the titanic director / producer / writer George Abbott), the favorite of his productions (“Follies”), his work ethic (start a new project the morning after opening the current one) and his astuteness (work with the best). Admirable stuff but hardly insightful.

Luckily, some of the best give their best in the revue: Emily Skinner acts the devil out of “Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company.” Fierce, straightforward and cynical, she makes the skin crawl. She also nails Stephen Sondheim’s difficult “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music,” making it into a one-act play of regret.

Also superb is Karen Ziemba, not as her usual dancing self but as a ditsy Mrs. Lovett from “Sweeney Todd” and a poignant, defeated Fräulein Schneider in “So What?” from “Cabaret.” That hit’s title song is sung with passion and anger by the sensational Bryonha Marie Parham, who also shakes a mean derrière in “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from “Show Boat.” (Please, somebody, give these women a show of their own.)

On the male side, Chuck Cooper is an hilarious Tevye with “If I Were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler,” while Tony Yazbeck dances a fiery “The Right Girl” from “Follies” and ably shows off his pipes in “Something’s Coming” from “West Side Story.”

The evening could do without “You’ve Got Possibilities” from “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman” or the garbled “Evita” medley or the out-of-context numbers from “Parade” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

Others in the cast are Janet Dacal, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voorhees and Michael Xavier. The skimpy book is credited to David Thompson, with new songs, arrangements and music supervision by Jason Robert Brown. Prince himself directed the tribute, assisted by co-director Susan Stroman who also contributed the lively choreography.

Prince is a giant. But this is less tribute than compilation. It should work better as a cast recording.

--David A. Rosenberg
August 30, 2017

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