THE HANGOVER REPORT – PRINCE OF BROADWAY has some thrilling highs, lackluster lows

The cast of "Prince of Broadway"

The cast of “Prince of Broadway”

Over the past few decades, Broadway has seen retrospectives of theater luminaries grace its stages, often times to strong critical and commercial acclaim. Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, Fosse, and Sondheim on Sondheim quickly come to mind. Indeed, the first two walked away with the Tony Award for Best Musical, albeit in somewhat weak seasons. Prince of Broadway, the first musical to open in the as yet sleepy 2017-2018 Broadway season, now joins this well-loved group. Is it any good?

Well yes and no. The show, directed by Mr. Prince himself and choreographed by Susan Stroman as a straightforward revue (the unfussy book is by David Thompson), is a mixed bag, with some thrilling highs, as well as head-scratching lows. And I doubt there’s a harder working ensemble – comprised of Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham (who stopped the show time and time again with her hair-raising vocal prowess and dramatic commitment), Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier, Tony Yazbeck and Karen Ziemba – on the New York stage at the moment. Thankfully, each gets a memorable moment to shine.

Things got off to a promising start with the rousing overture, a head-spinning mash-up of musical selections from Prince shows arranged by the great Jason Robert Brown. Some segments work better than others. Faring best were Cabaret, Show Boat, and The Phantom of the Opera. With this crop, great care has been lavished on these to let the songs themselves reach out of the context of the respective shows. Mr. Robert Brown has smartly slowed the tempos so audiences have the opportunity to really soak up the storytelling within these iconic songs. Indeed, Mr. Cooper moved me to tears with his bruised rendition of “Old Man River”. Ms. Parham, who appeared in the first two, stopped the show cold with her white hot rendition of “Cabaret”. Mr. Xavier and Ms. Voorhees were an ideal Phantom and Christine (I’d gladly pay to see these two take on the roles down at the Majestic).

Least successful were the half-hearted attempts to recreate the magic of the original Prince productions of Evita, West Side Story, and Kiss of the Spider Woman. These suffered the most from not being able to appreciate the ravishing stage pictures of the originals – perhaps due to the scrappy casting and design  limitations (sets by Beowulf Boritt and costumes by William Ivey Long) – for which Prince is known for. As a result, these presentations looked severely compromised, even lazy.

I had decidedly mixed feelings about the four Sondheim snippets from Follies, A Little Night Music, Company, and Sweeney Todd. All four are indisputable masterpieces of the American Musical. Yet despite some strong performances (Mr. Yazbeck in Follies, Ms. Skinner in Night Music  and Company, and Ms. Ziemba in Sweeney Todd), I somehow felt short-changed. Taken out of the larger fabric of these character-driven shows, many of Mr. Sondheim’s songs – especially since they were being performed in character – felt slightly anti-climactic. The two Harnick and Bock sections, She Loves Me and Fiddler on the Roof, fared similarly.

Now, off to the races we go!




Broadway, Musical

Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

2 hours, 30 minutes (with one intermission)

Through October 22

Categories: Broadway, Theater

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