Broadway Review: Manhattan Theatre Club’s “Prince of Broadway” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

Some audience members attending the engaging “Prince of Broadway,” currently running at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, might find themselves caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: either they are unforgiving musical theatre aficionados and find themselves constantly comparing the iconic musical numbers with the original Broadway production of the shows from which they come, or they have little knowledge of musical theatre and scratch their heads wondering what the context of the musical numbers might be? For the rest of the audience – the majority of those attending the performance I attended – this dilemma is diminished but not irrelevant and raises the question, “Is Hal Prince anywhere backstage where his majestic career began?”

Not unlike the Kennedy Center Honors, “Prince of Broadway” is a tribute to a worthy honoree with a history of “life achievements” presented live and on video. Here the life achievements are songs from sixteen Broadway musicals directed by Prince, each performed by one or more of nine veteran Broadway entertainers and each song delivered on an impressive set. The song or songs from one show move rapidly to the next with Beowulf Boritt’s sets changing seamlessly. William Ivey Long’s costumes create the perfect mnemonic palette that transports the viewer to the richness of the shows’ histories. Howell Binkley’s lighting conspires with sets and costumes to successfully counterpoint with the performances. This effort, though Herculean, leaves the audience wanting more.

The ‘more’ is the honoree himself. Mr. Prince has a rich past (and present) and the “Transition” monologues by the actors portraying Prince and sharing what amount to mere snippets about the director’s life and work are simply not enough exposition to sate the palate of the audience member. It might have been more beneficial, for example, if each actor shared her or his memories about the musical or how the musical might have influenced their career.

That said, what “Prince of Broadway” does provide is two and a half hours of blissful entertainment, showcasing Hal Prince’s iconic directorial career and the music of at least thirty-six of Broadway’s best composers, lyricists, and book writers. There are notable highlights in the tribute. “Tonight” from “West Side Story” with Tony Yazbeck as Tony and Kaley Ann Voorhees as Maria are among those. Ms. Voorhees is one of the best Marias ever to play that role. The entire cast is together for “Beautiful Girls,” Waiting for the Girls Upstairs,” and The Right Girl” from “Follies.” The two “older couples” are engaging and the actors – Emily Skinner (Phyllis), Karen Ziemba (Sally), Tony Yazbeck (Buddy), and Chuck Cooper (Ben) – deliver authentic performances that capture the unique traits of each character with sheer grace. Tony Yazbeck’s extended tap routine is a masterful and energetic performance – he could have danced all night and the audience would still have wanted more. Kudos to Mr. Yazbeck and choreographer Susan Stroman.

Additional highlights are Emily Skinner’s transcendent “Send in the Clowns” (“A Little Night Music”) and “Ladies Who Lunch” (“Company”) and Michael Xavier and Kaley Ann Voorhees’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” and “The Music of the Night.” Brandon Uranowitz (George) and Bryonha Marie Parham (Amalia) bring pathos and ethos to “Tonight at Eight” and “Will He Love Me” from “She Loves Me.” Janet Dacal (Sydney) and Michael Xavier (Clark Kent) breeze through “You’ve Got Possibilities” with convincing charm and wit from the lesser known “It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman.”

“Prince of Broadway” is a rich recounting of the works of director Hal Prince. Perhaps you will not know more about him after the musical or garner more knowledge about the shows represented; however, the performances will surely pique your interest and introduce or re-introduce you to some of the best music to have played on the Great White Way.