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‘Prince of Broadway’ is theatrical musical perfection

Linda Armstrong | 9/21/2017, 4:37 p.m.
“Prince of Broadway,” playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is a love letter to Hal Prince and his magnificent ...
'Prince of Broadway' Matthew Murphy

Could you ever imagine a Broadway musical that takes the best moments, the best songs, the showstopper numbers of a production and puts all these moments together into one show? Now, take that element and add to it a storyline that connects these musicals, connects them as the body of works of a brilliant, creative man, and that is what you have in “Prince of Broadway,” playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. This amazing musical is a love letter to Hal Prince and his magnificent Broadway career. In this Manhattan Theatre Club production are great songs from 17 of the Broadway musicals he has directed, from 1954’s “The Pajama Game” to 1986’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” The other elements needed to make a fabulous musical are the voices and, believe me, they are there. The ensemble cast is led by Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper and includes Bryonha Marie Parham, along with other Broadway veterans such as Karen Ziemba, Tony Yazbeck, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Janet Dacal, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz and Michael Xavier.

There are so many moments of back-to-back showstoppers in this endearing musical with a book by David Thompson, new songs, arrangements, orchestration and music supervision by Jason Robert Brown and co-direction and choreography by longtime Hal Prince collaborator Susan Stroman. It is of course co-directed by the master himself—Hal Prince.

Watching this phenomenal musical I realized I thought I was familiar with Prince’s work, but there are a lot of productions that were new to me, such as “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman,” a musical that had a very brief life, although it received a great review.

“Prince of Broadway” is an opportunity to experience some of the greatest stage songs and moments recaptured and reimagined. I loved Cooper leading the cast in “Heart” from “Damn Yankees.” Yazbeck is fantastic as he performs “Something’s Coming” from “West Side Story” and then passionately sings “Tonight” with Voorhees. Parham has a lovely, operatically toned voice and delighted the audience with “Will He Like Me” from “She Loves Me.” One of the most tender moments in the musical is Skinner’s stirring performance of “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music.” It’s funny, that’s one of those songs that you know you’ve heard in the past and it touched your heart, but you weren’t sure where it came from. Well, now I know.

I love how this production uses nontraditional casting as Cooper is Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” and takes on “If I Were a Rich Man,” a song he has a lot of fun with and appears to truly enjoy performing. When he came onstage in the garb of Tevye the audience responded with applause, and then when he began to sing, it was a wrap!

Emotional moments from “Evita” include the singing of “Buenos Aires,” “A New Argentina” and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” Dacal is wonderful as Eva and is joined by the entire cast.

One of the most powerful moments, filled with raw emotion, came from Cooper when he came out as Joe in “Show Boat” and sang with pain, anger and frustration, “Ol’ Man River.” Parham as Queenie had fun singing with Voorhees as Magnolia in “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.”

Another stupendous moment of nontraditional casting comes when Cooper performs “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” Ziemba is captivating as she sings “The Worst Pies in London” as Mrs. Lovett.

“The Phantom of the Opera” is one of my favorite musicals ever, so when the music began to play I was riveted and focused on the stage, waiting to see if Xavier as The Phantom and Voorhees as Christine could do the selections “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” and “The Music of the Night” justice, and they did. I could feel the emotions whelming up inside me and the tears coming down my face. Their vocal instruments are superb!

“Prince of Broadway” is the best of all worlds! It takes your most favorite and magical theater memories and brings them together to honor the genius, creativity, courage and originality of Hal Prince. “Prince of Broadway” is a must-see for any musical theater fan! It is theatrical musical perfection!