By: Paulanne Simmons
Prince of Broadway, Manhattan Theatre Club’s biographical review that just opened at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, could just as easily have been called “Hall Prince’s Greatest Hits.” True, not all the musicals represented were big moneymakers. It’s a Bird… t’s a Plane..It’s Superman closed after 129 performances. Parade didn’t make it past 123. But according to Prince, even these shows were artistic successes.
Although Prince co-directs with Susan Stroman (also the choreographer), the show is not exactly a vanity project. Prince of Broadway has a book by David Thompson; Jason Robert Brown is in charge of the music. What’s more, the actual character of Prince is remarkably absent from the show. His words are spoken between the musical numbers by actors of the 9-member ensemble.
Sixteen shows are included in the revue. Each is given loving attention, from the Roy Lichtenstein-like cartoon set for Superman to the menacing spider’s web in Kiss of the Spider Woman. The baseball players in Damn Yankees, the chorus girls in Follies and the murderous couple in Sweeney Todd are all dressed in meticulously detailed period costumes.
Although the cast is more than adequate, for the most part, they do not make the songs their own. Nevertheless there are standouts: Bryonha Parham as Queenie, teaching Magnolia (Kaley Ann Voorhees) the meaning of love in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”; Emily Skinner singing Desirée’s lament, “Send in the Clowns”; Tony Yazbeck delivering Leo Frank’s anthem to hope, “This Is Not Over Yet.”
However, anyone looking for real insight into Prince’s personality will not find it here. The show traces his rise from office boy for his hero, director George Abbot, to stage manager, to producer of Pajama Game, and all that followed.
Prince of Broadway has something for everybody, especially if you’re a Sondheim fan (five of the sixteen shows are Sondheim musicals, six if you count West Side Story). The shows are arranged in no particular order, but the revue begins with “Heart” from the 1955 Damn Yankees and ends with “The Music of the Night” from the still-running Phantom of the Opera.
Some may find the smorgasburg nature of this show a bit too contrived. Certainly the show is somewhat formulaic. Still, there is as much artistry as artifice in this paean to the prince.
Prince of Broadway ****
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47 Street
Photos: Mathew Murphy