WHAT “Prince of Broadway”
WHERE Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.
INFO $89-$179; 212-239-6200, manhattantheatreclub.com
BOTTOM LINE A loving glimpse at theater royalty.
If putting on a play is a little like giving birth, then the labor pains for “Prince of Broadway” were lengthy and intense.
Legendary producer-director Harold Prince — the man has won 21 Tonys — has been working through financing and creative issues to get this retrospective to Broadway for seven years or so. (It played in Japan in 2015.)
The show, directed by Prince with Susan Stroman as co-director, is basically a highlight reel of his finest moments, two-plus hours of songs from major hits such as “West Side Story,” “Sweeney Todd” and of course his smash, “The Phantom of the Opera.” It probably took him much of those seven years to determine what to leave out.
Breaking up the musical numbers, the nine cast members — with glasses similar to Prince’s perched on their heads — offer flashbacks about how he got into the biz: Begging the venerable producer-director George Abbott for a job, raising money from the crew to put on “The Pajama Game,” lucky breaks like taking over “West Side Story” when another producer backed out. Musical theater buffs will eat it up; those looking for something more challenging, not so much.
The cast of Broadway powerhouses clearly wanted to do Prince proud, resulting in a sell that was too hard at times. And as in any revue, some roles were an easier fit than others. Brandon Uranowitz adorably swung on a lamppost in a scene from “She Loves Me,” but seemed uncomfortable taking on the Emcee in “Cabaret.” Bryonha Marie Parham’s rendition of that show’s title number lacked levels and intensity. (Plus the flashy sequined dress costume designer William Ivey Long put her in wasn’t sleazy enough for the Kit Kat Club.) Emily Skinner’s “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” was tentative, but boy did she nail “Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company.” Ditto, Karen Ziemba as “Sweeney Todd’s” Mrs. Lovett, Tony Yazbeck and his stunning tap number in the “Follies” sequence and Kaley Ann Voorhees as “Phantom’s” Christine (no surprise there, since she recently left the role).
Finally, let’s commiserate with Jason Robert Brown (Tony winner for his score for the Prince-directed “Parade”). Along with doing arrangements and orchestrations for the show, Brown was charged with writing a new song to sum it all up. More of an epilogue than the finale this show deserves, “Do the Work” appears to be Prince’s advice to anyone wanting to blaze a similar trail. That, “Prince of Broadway” makes clear, will not be easy.