At the Tony Awards a few months ago, when trivia questions were displayed on the stage during the telecast’s commercial breaks, one of them asked who holds the record for the most Tony wins of any individual. For an audience of theater professionals, journalists, and fans, the answer was likely a no-brainer: Harold Prince has directed or produced some of Broadway’s most iconic musicals, including West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Follies, Evita, Sweeney Todd, and many more. (And, for the record, he has 21 Tonys to his name.)
But while the man has helped guide some of musical theater’s greatest treasures, the new musical celebrating his life and career doesn’t hold the same shine. Prince of Broadway is a meandering tribute to the man and his work, told via a series of biographical anecdotes and revue-like musical numbers that don’t gel together into a coherent whole.
Prince himself directed the show, which employs a nimble cast of nine performers who take turns sharing anecdotes and life lessons as “Prince” and dipping into some of the hits (and flops — Merrily We Roll Along gets a number) he had a hand in. Some musicals are represented by one number, while others have multiple, the reasons for which remain unclear. Why only perform one number from Fiddler on the Roof (even if it’s a robust “If I Were a Rich Man” by Chuck Cooper) and three from A Little Night Music? Or four from Cabaret? Some of the transitions are aided by those wise words and interesting stories from Prince — like how he met first Stephen Sondheim — but others aren’t, transitioning from one show to the next without any context.
Musical arrangements came via The Last Five Years’ Jason Robert Brown (whose musical Parade, directed by Prince, gets a slot in the second act) — a not-insignificant task, considering the scope and variety of all the musicals featured here — and five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman’s choreography includes a fantastic tap break during one of the tunes from Follies. Numbers from West Side Story, She Loves Me, Company, Show Boat, and Phantom of the Opera are also among those featured. But despite a talented cast — Brandon Uranowitz (Falsettos) and Tony Yazbeck (On the Town) have some of the best standout moments, as well as In the Heights alum Janet Dacal — the show comes off like a mediocre episode of This Is Your Life, a culmination of famed songs sandwiched between other famed songs like a Broadway playlist on Spotify. There’s no question the songs are great, and the talent involved is, too, but in this format many are robbed of the emotional resonance they’d have in the context of their full show.
The revue, to be clear, is a classic Broadway form — many venues and performers do spectacular ones in New York and around the world — but it’s a curious choice for a fully-staged, semi-biographical production. Prince of Broadway also poses an interesting question: Who is this musical for? Chances are if you know the name Harold Prince, you’re already familiar with the productions that made him an icon. Do those people want to sit through an abbreviated variety show of them? And for those who don’t know Prince by name, is getting snippets of those big-name shows enough to purchase tickets and walk in the door?
I’m not sure what the answer to that question is, but here’s what I do know: An excellent Sweeney Todd is currently playing Off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theatre. Phantom is continuing its record-setting run on the boards, and Fiddler and She Loves Me staged strong revivals in recent years. Prince is so prolific it’s only a matter of time before one of his musicals comes to Broadway again. Those are the shows worth seeing. C