The best 16 shows on Broadway are all playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater in “Prince of Broadway,” a sumptuous revue celebrating the 60-plus-years of legendary director-producer Harold Prince’s fabulous career. Watching the hits flash by, like diamonds on a necklace, is sure to make you cry – with tears of joy if you saw that particular show, and tears of regret if you missed it.
The project was the brainchild of the composer-playwright Jason Robert Brown, who worked with Prince in 1998 on “Parade.” Getting it produced on Broadway was a seven-year effort that got a leg up when it played Japan in 2015. But now that the show is finally here, it seems clear that Broadway is where it came from, and Broadway is where it belongs.
The talent that went into this show is out of this world. Dazzling sets by Beowulf Boritt and breathtaking costumes by William Ivey Long pay proper homage to the original designers. (Look! That’s original set designer Boris Aronson’s name etched into the set for “Follies” — as if we could ever forget.) Jon Weston extends his respects to the original sound designers (how about those spine-chilling opening chords of “Phantom”?) and Howell Binkley is replicating lighting designs from some of the shows he worked on originally. Even Paul Huntley could consult the original hair and wig sketches from the half-dozen of Prince’s shows that he worked on, including the memorable golden helmet of the title character of “Evita.”
In addition to co-directing the show with Prince (with whom she worked on the Tony-winning 1994 revival of “Show Boat”), Susan Stroman has created more than a dozen distinct choreographic profiles to suit each musical. The range of styles is itself impressive, from the adorable shimmy-and-shake that Chuck Cooper playfully executes for Tevye’s “If I Were a Rich Man,” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” to the intricate staging of three songs from “Follies” (Prince’s personal favorite among all his shows), performed by the entire cast.
Unbeatable as an ensemble, cast members also get their individual moments to soar: Tony Yazbeck’s amazing dance solo to “The Right Girl” from “Follies”; Karen Ziemba’s hair-raising version of Fraulein Schneider’s bitter “So What?” from “Cabaret”; Emily Skinner’s scalding “Ladies Who Lunch,” from “Company”; Kaley Ann Voorhees, transcendent as Maria in “West Side Story”; Michael Xavier sinking his teeth into “The Music of the Night” from “The Phantom of the Opera”; Janet Dacal’s dramatic “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from “Evita”; Bryonha Marie Parham’s Sally Bowles, clawing her way through the title song from “Cabaret”; Brandon Uranowitz’s creepy Emcee from the same show; and Chuck Cooper’s rumbling “Ol’ Man River” from “Show Boat.”
Although it must have been hard to choose favorites for this show (nothing from “LoveMusik”?), the scope of Prince’s career is smartly represented by the selections and their respectful treatment. There are none of those hateful medleys that make you feel deprived; many shows are represented by two and even three fully staged songs. “Cabaret” has four selections that, taken together, musically summarize the show. You may wish “Prince of Broadway” were twice as long, but you won’t go away hungry.
Prince contributed a Director’s Note in the program that refers to what he calls his amazing “luck” in beginning his theatrical career at a golden moment in the mid-1950s, when the great director-producer George Abbott was still around to learn from (in Prince’s first show, “The Pajama Game”) and the young Stephen Sondheim was just starting out (in “West Side Story”). The list of his creative collaborators is a roll call of legends: Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Hugh Wheeler, Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the beloved team of John Kander and Fred Ebb. Not to mention the choreographers and designers who came up with him in the ranks.
“Sometimes, I think I got in just under the wire, when the theater was central to the entertainment industry,” Prince writes, “and there was an atmosphere of ease, camaraderie and community.” And when the cost of doing “an elegant Broadway musical” was $250,000, he adds. Ever the realist.