Lovers of Broadway musicals are in for a special treat if they hurry to the Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of “Prince of Broadway,” marking the brilliant producer-director career of Hal Prince. One smashingly executed number after another, variously performed by a versatile cast of nine, reflects highlights of Prince’s show business journey. And to further illustrate his know-how, Prince directs, together with co-director and choreographer Susan Stroman. The effect is often electric.
The show is quite elaborate for this relatively intimate staging, with scenic and production designer Beowulf Boritt coming up with just the right sets to characterize numbers representing particular musicals, and William Ivey Long going to town with eye-popping costumes, boosted by Paul Huntley’s hair and wig design. The minute the excellent pit orchestra plunges into the overture, we already begin to be transported by the sampling of what was and what’s to come as affectionate reprises.
You’ll have favorites of your own. For me it was worth going just to see African-American Chuck Cooper sing “If I Were a Rich Man” as the Jewish Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” and also hear his profound rendition of “Ol’ Man River” from “Show Boat.” Or Tony Yazbeck doing a sizzling, breathtaking dance to “The Right Girl” from “Follies.” Or Emily Skinner giving her memorably wrenching interpretation of “Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company.” Or Bryonha Marie Parham’s lovely singing of “Will He Like Me?” from “She Loves Me,” and later dynamically singing “Cabaret” from that show. Or Karen Ziemba as Frãulein Schneider giving a superb interpretation of “So What?”, also from “Cabaret.”
I can go on and on. Rarely can one find such a compendium of musical favorites in one production, which offers treat after treat as we go down memory lane with Prince. The thin book by David Thompson that holds the musical together has Prince giving tidbits about his career and what he has learned along the way, but wisely not embodied by one performer. Male and female cast members take turns delivering his comments, always with his signature look of eye glasses perched above his forehead.
So many more compliments are due the performers. Kaley Ann Voorhees is poignant singing “Tonight” from “West Side Story.” Michael Xavier and Janet Dacal team delightfully on “You’ve Got Possibilities” from “It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman,” with Dacal also impressive as Eva singing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from “Evita.” Brandon Uranowitz has nifty turns as the nervous George singing “Tonight at Eight” from “She Loves Me” and singing the role of Molina in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Yazbeck is touching summoning hope as Leo Frank sinigng “This is Not Over Yet” from “Parade,” about the wrongful murder conviction of the Jewish Frank and his kidnapping from prison by a mob and being lynched in Georgia in 1915.
There is so much more, including selections from "Damn Yankees," "Follies," "A Little Night Music," "Merrily We Roll Along," "Sweeney Todd" and "The Phantom of the Opera."
The inventiveness of Susan Stroman’s choreography is evident throughout. With all of the shows involved, the arrangements, orchestration and musical supervision by Jason Robert Brown must have presented a herculean task, and ditto for the orchestra that has such a variety of hit numbers to play.
The nostalgia evoked by “Prince of Broadway” is a boon to those who have enjoyed the shows presented, but there also can be a valuable education for younger theatergoers who may have only heard about some of them. Fortunately, this fine cast ensemble does justice to the rich material virtually every step of the way. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Reviewed August 26, 2017.