Halfway through Hal Prince’s new show–Prince of Broadway, a blatant self-tribute at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre–a Prince stand-in narrator remarks how critics never seemed to like his shows, regardless of how successful they were. In general this line could be comedic, but in this case, it was tragically ironic, because once again, no good theater critic can enjoy Prince of Broadway. On the one hand, maybe we critics aren’t always right; after all, critics praised It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman but trashed Follies. The narrator in the show even remarks how there is a difference between a good show and a bad one, a flop and a hit; a great show could be a flop, and a bad show could be a hit. However, in this case, it quite definitive that Prince of Broadway is both a bad show and a flop.
The point of Prince of Broadway is to commemorate the remarkable director/producer that was in charge of over 30 Broadway musicals and collected over 20 Tony awards. Theoretically, staging a revue show in honor of a Broadway icon is an acceptable thing to do (think of Jerome Robbins). However, the solipsism and nepotism of Harold Prince directing his own Harold Prince-themed Broadway revue is a bit shocking.
But in addition to the egotism of the production, the actual show itself is utterly disappointing. The revue includes several short sections from each of Prince’s most famous musicals, interspersed with some narration about Prince’s career. The idea of the show seems great– who doesn’t love West Side Story, Cabaret, Evita, and Company?–but it is the execution that fails. The revue is full of a cast of low-level Broadway celebrities like Brandon Uranowitz (Falsettos), Michael Xavier (Sunset Boulevard), Janet Dacal (In the Heights), and Emily Skinner (Side Show). If you don’t recognize the names, there’s no surprise, and these are the most famous of the cast of nine.
Although the nine actors are very talented, if perhaps over-zealous, the problem of the casting is that people don’t want to hear Brandon Uranowitz sing “Wilkommen,” they want Joel Grey or Allan Cumming. They don’t want to see Janet Ducal perform “Don’t Cry for me Argentina,” they want Patti Lupone. No matter how hard (and they sure are trying their hardest), these actors cannot live up to the very famous originators of classic songs like “Being Alive” or “Send in the Clowns.”
To make matters worse, each section of the revue has been designed by Beowulf Borrit (sets) and William Ivey Long (costumes) to replicate the aesthetic of the original productions. So although the audience is visually given a reminder of the extraordinary, Tony-award winning versions, they have to sit through lackluster performances that do not hold up to the originals. Sadly the designs are the best part of the show, in addition to the wonderfully magical overture by the ingenious Jason Robert Brown, who managed to combine even more Prince musicals than the revue does.
No one in the Broadway community–actors, designers, audience members, and even critics–can deny that Harold Prince has had an extraordinary career and that he is deserving of praise. However, Prince of Broadway is not reflective of his great career, and instead, it is a lacking musical revue that feels more egotistical than celebratory.