By Casey Curtis
The average aficionado of Broadway musicals may not be the same demographic as the average pay-per-viewer of pugilism, yet it is a noteworthy coincidence that I saw Prince of Broadway on the same night as a much-hyped boxing match took place between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. The latter spectacle pitted one of the best boxers in recent history against a mixed martial arts champ. Even though many hailed the fight as “better than expected,” Mayweather and McGregor’s respective areas of expertise within the realm of person-to-person violence really don’t mesh.
And so goes with Prince of Broadway. Hal Prince is one of the most prolific directors and producers in the history of Broadway — a seminal figure in the industry. But seeing a collection of greatest hits from his productions does not a fully-satisfying Broadway show make. (Perhaps Las Vegas — You know Vegas, it’s the city where the Mayweather-McGregor fight was held.)
The cast, heavyweights of talent one and all, was superb. Bryonha Marie Parham brings the house down with the Act I curtain closer, “Cabaret.” But you cannot get perfect casting for each role when each actor must play so many.
The songs, from Broadway’s all-time geniuses such as Sondheim & Bernstein and Kander & Ebb, are extraordinary, but they get punched in the gut because they are robbed of their context in their original shows.
The book was so minimal that it could have been printed on boxing ring round cards. I would have loved to have learned inside stories about Hal Prince and would gladly have sacrificed as many as ten songs to hear the details of his personal and profession life. The playbill has: “A Note From Hal Prince,” containing some of those stories — they should have been in the show.
These frustrations however, do not apply to every theater-goer. If you have not seen most of Hal Prince’s musicals, this is a splendid sampler package that may inspire you to seek out revivals of all-time classics in their entirety. Similarly, a young theater fan might be hooked for life when experiencing the majesty of the music and lyrics on display. I have watched West Side Story countless times, yet hearing that Bernstein music took my breath away. And so did Emily Skinner with her rendition of “Send in the Clowns.” Ms. Skinner has an impressive ability to deliver comedy and poignancy with equal mastery.
Just as MMA champ McGregor was in the wrong medium fighting boxing champ Mayweather, this collection of the best of American theater belongs elsewhere — in a documentary, with Hal Prince on screen telling us the stories of his life and the stories behind the productions, including archival footage of the original productions. Now that would be a knockout.
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., 212-239-6200
Book by David Thompson; Music supervision by Jason Robert Brown; Co-direction and choreography by Susan Stroman; Directed by Harold Prince
Cast Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier, Tony Yazbeck and Karen Ziemba