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Book Reviews

Aisle Say on the Square: Prince Charming

Aisle Say on the Square: Prince Charming
 Brandon Uranowitz, Emily Skinner, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Tony Yazbeck, Chuck Cooper, Bryonha Marie Parham, Janet Dacal, Michael Xavier

Brandon Uranowitz, Emily Skinner, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Tony Yazbeck, Chuck Cooper, Bryonha Marie Parham, Janet Dacal, Michael Xavier, Karen Ziemba

After several years of press releases, rumors and anticipation, the last thing you expect  from a retrospective anthology featuring key moments in the work of an iconic Director of Broadway musicals, is that the overall impression is one of being charming. Yet that’s exactly what Prince of Broadway is.

Tony Yazbeck, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier, Karen Ziemba

Tony Yazbeck, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier, Karen Ziemba, Chuck Cooper

In part, of course, this has to do with the current financial climate, and the difficulty involved in getting anything on its feet. But also, it reflects the desire of the creative team, conscious or tacit, and probably conscious, to carve out the territory and an identity for the show that is quite different from its predecessor anthology, Jerome Robbins Broadway. Rather than present a huge cast and ensemble to replicate great moments of yore, exactly or almost exactly as they debuted,  this overview of Hal Prince’s work features only nine, count ‘em, nine,  of Broadway’s  current A+ players,  delivering fresh spins on the old material, in something very akin to a black box setting (with isolated, particularized wagons moving on and off), absolutely suggesting each original staging but never in slavish imitation.  It should be noted that the earlier selections of the evening, which progresses chronologically, reference several of the shows for which Prince was only producer and not director, but that’s appropriate to the career.

Guiding us through the evening, are the words (or anyway the philosophies) Mr. Prince himself—as articulated in the “book”  by David Thompson—given personality by each of the actors trading off his persona.  Our visual cue for this is a very simple one: when an actor is portraying Prince, s/he sports a pair of glasses nesting atop the head, in the director-producer’s signature style.
A review can’t really do justice to the experience of watching  familiar veterans and new favorites tackle roles for which they are mostly right, but that their careers have thus far somehow missed. I could particularize, say, the grandeur of Chuck Cooper’s Sweeney Todd singing “My Friends”, the knock-out delivery of Janet Dacal belting out “Kiss of The Spider Woman”,  the sweet-funny  pathos of Brandon Uranowitz and Bryonhia Marie Parham in he said/she said solos from She Loves Me, and other such a memorable set pieces from those worthies as well as Emily Skinner, Kaylee Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier, Tony Yazbeck and  Karen Ziemba—but no such summary record  can truly capture the joy of discovery, so I think I shall leave that to you.
Suffice it to say that Harold Prince,  his co-director and choreographer  Susan Stroman,  and all around guardian of the musical  flame, Jason Robert Brown,  have—under the aegis of the Manhattan Theatre Club—fashioned a show that is not only a delightful and well-deserved celebration, but one that can transplant easily and be prolifically licensed to other venues:  everybody in the cast gets to be special in this one. Smart. Very smart.
Also smart—and relevant to this review—is Harold Prince’s  newly released autobiography Sense of Occasion (Applause Books, hardcover $29.99, 358pp).  unlike many second autobiographies, this is neither a continuation of where the first left off, nor a reboot, as if the first never really existed. Instead, the first 26 of its short chapters are the original chapters of Contradictions, each followed by of reflection, 43 years later, on the original content; with the rest of the book,  another not quite 100 pages, consisting of all new material. It’s a great way to both reissue a rarity and put it in perspective at the same time.
What has not changed is Mr. Prince’s writing style.  He’s not very chatty, eschewing (or perhaps just not thinking to include) dishy anecdotes;  not the kind of anecdotes I think of as dishy anyway. He stays matter-of-factly to the point what it took to get a show on, creatively and as a producer. It’s a spare, clean, pragmatic narrative; but given who the narrator is, there’s no dearth of insider perspective. And in some wise, it may even be looked upon as a handbook for the profession.  Thus, of course, it belongs in any even moderately maintained theatergoer’s library.

Book Reviews

David Spencer is an award-winning composer-lyricist, lyricist-librettist, author and musical theatre teacher. He has written music and lyrics for the Richard Rodgers Development Award-winning musical The Fabulist, which also contributed to his winning a Kleban lyrics award and several Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation grants. He is also lyricist-librettist for two musicals with composer Alan Menken: Weird Romance (WPA 1992, York 2004) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which had its sold out, extended world premiere in Montreal in Summer 2015; cast album release soon. He made his professional debut in 1984 with the English Adaptation of La Bohéme at the Public Theatre; and he has since written music and lyrics for Theatreworks/USA’s all-new, award-winning Young Audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera (1996) and Les Misérables (1999) (book and direction for both by Rob Barron). Currently he is writing book, music and lyrics for a musical based on the iconic Russian novel The Golden Calf. Spencer’s published books are the Alien Nation novel Passing Fancy (Pocket, 1994), The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide (Heinemann, 2005, a regularly reprinted industry standard) and the script of Weird Romance (Samuel French, 1993). He is on faculty and teaches at the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and has taught at HB Studio, the Workshop Studio Theater and Goldsmith’s College in London. His primary professional affiliations are BMI, The Dramatists Guild and The International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.

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