‘Prince of Broadway’: New revue of legend Harold Prince’s career ‘a bit out of focus’

Harold Prince, one of Broadway’s most prolific and visionary director-producers who mounted works by Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and John Kander & Fred Ebb, amongst others, finally earned a show celebrating his estimable career in “Prince of Broadway,” a new musical revue from Manhattan Theatre Club that opened at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on August 24. Directed by the 21-time Tony Award-winner himself, with a helping hand from five-time Tony champ Susan Stroman (“The Producers,” “Contact”), “Prince of Broadway” features orchestrations, musical arrangements, and new songs by three-time Tony winner Jason Robert Brown (“The Bridges of Madison County,” “Parade”) and stars a nine-member ensemble of Broadway mainstays.

Despite their respect for the accomplishments of Prince’s career, critics were, at best, indifferent to “Prince of Broadway.” Marilyn Stasio (Variety) praises the “sumptuous revue,” emphasizing its “unbeatable” ensemble, “dazzling sets” by Beowulf Boritt and “breathtaking costumes” by William Ivey Long. Though less enthusiastic, Ben Brantley (New York Times) similarly highlights the talents of the ensemble, particularly Karen Ziemba and Emily Skinner, as well as Brown’s “handsome musical arrangements and orchestrations,” but overall finds the production “motley.”

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Adam Feldman (Time Out New York) similarly finds the revue lacking, giving the production three out of five stars, arguing that “there’s little insight into Prince’s craft or his vision,” but giving kudos to Tony Yazbek’s “lengthy, exceptional explosion of tap dance frustration” in a number from Sondheim’s “Follies.” Likewise, Sara Holdren (Vulture) states, “the show’s central figure remains a bit generic, a bit out of focus,” though she does applaud the “very game cast members” and the work of Boritt and Long.

Based on the overall tenor of the reviews that “Prince of Broadway” received, the production will probably struggle to gain any traction with the Tony Awards’ nominating committee. In addition, the revue, which should be ruled eligible in the Best Musical category, may also find its late Summer opening date a detriment as the onslaught of new musicals opening closer to Tony season might push it far from the nominators’ memories.

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If any of the ensemble members have a chance at a Tony nomination, watch out for Ziemba, Skinner, and Tony Yazbek. Ziemba, a Tony winner (“Contact”) and four-time nominee, earned mostly rave reviews for her performance of Kander and Ebb’s “So What?” from “Cabaret,” while Skinner, also a previous Tony nominee, earned admiration from critics for her interpretation of Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company,” and Yazbeck, who earned his first Tony bid just two years ago for “On the Town,” wows audiences with his performance of “The Right Girl” from Sondheim’s “Follies.” Brown could also surprise with a Best Orchestrations nomination for his deft touch re-orchestrating 17 of the most beloved scores in the musical theatre canon.

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