By: Isa Goldberg
Nostalgia, in the very best sense – as a recollection of the past because it rings powerfully in our memory, drives Prince of Broadway. A musical revue really, the eponymous Prince spans the decades from 1954 to 1986, the years during which Hal Prince directed and produced a run of Broadway hits, from West Side Story, Follies, and Fiddler on the Roof, to Kiss of The Spider Woman.
At its soul, the show is a compilation of the best musical numbers you can see in one evening, in a Broadway theater. In addition, each of the incredible performers who carry it, are tasked with reciting stories about Hal Prince, most of which succeed for their brevity. But there is one, in particular, that speaks to this incredibly enjoyable evening of theater, and it’s about Prince’s revival of “Showboat.” It was the only revival Prince produced apparently, and he chose it because it’s about the two things he loved most, family and theater.
Beyond that, the vanity aspects of a Broadway musical about the man who directs it, are swept seamlessly into the background. Prince was not none for his ego, nor is ego the soul of the theater, as Prince envisioned it.
In addition to the selection of great numbers, the cast is wonderful. Tony Yazbeck breaks out into a rousing tap routine singing Buddy’s song, The Right Girl (Follies), and shows up in Act II as a decimated Leo Frank in Parade about the immigrant Jewish factory manager who was lynched in Atlanta in 1913. He rolls through an enormous number of characters and songs here, from Tony in West Side Story, to Che in Evita, with Janet Dacal, a stunning Eva Peron.
With her amazing gift for acting a song, Karen Ziemba takes on some powerful roles, as well. Her interpretative approach to The Guerilla in Cabaret, and her emergence as the saddest of souls, Fraulein Schneider, are selflessly portrayed. But in Sweeney Todd, Ziemba is, in Mrs. Lovett’s words, “disgusting,” just like that old cannibal pie maker she portrays.
Warbling her way through a great range of musical styles from Sondheim to Weber, Emily Skinner hits an incredible high note in her rendition of Send in The Clowns. And Bryonha Marie Parham brings down the house at the end of Act I, singing Sally Bowles song in Cabaret. From the looks of things, it’s time for another revival of that beloved show with Brandon Uranowitz as Emcee. He also rolls through a multitude of songs before we arrive at the show’s eleventh hour number – Kaley Ann Voorhees (Christine) and Michael Xavier in The Phantom of The Opera.
Best for last: Chuck Cooper, portraying the American slave in “Ol’ Man River” from Showboat.
If the wonderful confections of American musical theater thrill you, watching this show is like hanging out at Levain Bakery early in the morning, before the first customer arrives.
Prince of Broadway
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47 Street
Photo: Mathew Murphy