Why I Disagree With Reviews of Prince of Broadway
The musical revue Prince of Broadway has earned a special place in my heart, not just because of the incredible shows that it showcases but because of the talented and kind cast. It has officially landed it's spot in my top two shows of all time. So when reviews came out after the opening on August 24, I was sad to see what many people were saying and I have strong reasons for not agreeing with them.
When I met the cast at the stage door I was astonished at what nice genuine people they all were. Reviews are reviews, but I wanted to take some time to explain my reasoning. But before I begin, I would like to mention that I have nothing but respect for the people who have reviewed this show. Their opinions are their own, just as mine are my own and this post is not meant to devalue what they have written.
Ben Brantley of The New York Times said at the beginning of his review that "you start to feel as if you're listening to some A.D.D.-afflicted D.J., with a passion for all flavors of musicals going manic at the turntable". Here I wanted to note that overtures are meant to give a taste of what is to come, and this overture succeeds in that very well. One of my favorite parts of it was the title song from Phantom of the Opera mixed with "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" which induced some chills. In most shows that have overtures, the songs do give a taste of what is to come but also don't have to really distinguish between songs. He goes on to call the ensemble "overtaxed" which is arguable. They were not in every single number or consecutive numbers (with a few exceptions) and they never seemed out of their element, thriving on the stage. He also calls the show "an oppressive succession of themed wigs and costumes, [and] is like hearing a rushed raconteur drop name after famous name without bothering to explain their significance". Significance is given in the show at different points with narration provided for upcoming sections that introduce the shows to follow. He take note of the line Brandon Uranowitz says as the "Emcee" from Cabaret "she wouldn't look Jewish at all". He said that "the number feels even uglier than it should" when it is "presented as just another page in a nostalgic scrapbook". He also uses this line in particular to make reference to the white supremacist rally that happened in Charlottesville. While this is a valid point, Prince of Broadway itself was conceived back in 2012 and Cabaret was written decades earlier. When both were written, no one had any idea this would have happened and the show is meant to be true to the original productions of Hal Prince's work. One of the recurring themes in reviews is referring to the book as "unilluminating", but I'll get to that later. Brantley goes on to refer to each sequence as being performed with the "high earnestness of audition pieces". In my mind this seems like a stretch. Prince directed each segment himself and the creative team as a whole is very talented and experienced. I really don't understand where this came from as from what I witnessed, each sequence was very well done. While he gives some praise that I can agree with (such as how good Emily Skinner was during "Ladies Who Lunch" from Company, saying "every casting director in town should make a point of seeing it".
Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal started his review talking about Hal Prince, saying "he isn't exactly a household name west of the Hudson and hasn't had a hit since the 1994 revival of Show Boat, so you can't help but wonder how savvy a commercial proposition it was for the 89-year-old legend to put together a tribute to himself and call it Prince of Broadway". While he has a point, people all over the country, and all over the world know some of the shows he has worked on and while they may not immediately associate his name with them, his work is remembered. Teachout also makes mention of how the show has had some trouble saying "that Mr. Prince tried and failed to raise the money to put on a bigger, starrier show is no secret. Instead he and Susan Stroman, his choreographer and co-director, have settled for a modestly scaled, slickly staged 2 1/2-hour greatest-hits medley of numbers..". This is true but when the production was staged in Japan back in 2015 they performed in two different venues, a larger theater in Tokyo and at a smaller theater in Osaka. They actually found that the show and audience response was better in the smaller theater. He goes on to say that the weak link of the show is the book in which the first-person reminiscences are "cliche-prone" and "[providing] unilluminating, momentum-killing effect". This I disagree with because as younger generation I found it more inspiring. The reminiscences show he started by making no money and how he came to have the career he did, as well as what those shows were. These stories can be inspiring to younger people who want a part in the business to stand up and work for it. At the end of his review, Teachout says the show feels like "a pledge-week TV special" rather than a Broadway show. But I can't understand this because I don't think any pledge-week TV specials have a narrative.
In the review David Rooney wrote for The Hollywood Reporter, one of the things in the review that stuck with me was the following line: "having African-American performers take on traditionally white roles switches up the dynamic". After the most recent race issue on Broadway involving The Great Comet and what would eventually lead to the announcement of a closing day for the show, this is something that should not be making a difference. Many wrote articles on what Broadway and the theater community should learn from what happened in that situation, but saying things like that, and then going on to call Chuck Cooper's rendition of "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof "inadequate as the sole representation" of Fiddler, is not something that has any need to be said and not something race should be playing a part in. I would also like to note that when I was at the show, the audience LOVED Cooper's version of "If I Were a Rich Man". This continues as he calls Bryohna Marie Parham an "imperfect fit for Amalia in She Loves Me". Now, I have seen the recorded performance of the most recent revival which was widely praised and I thought Parham did well as Amalia. He also calls the observations made when the cast is narrating as Hal Prince "generic observations about luck, persistence, taste, great collaborators and the fact that hits and flops cannot be automatically equated with successes and failures". The main reason I disagree with this is because these are not observations, that in my opinion, could just pop out of anyone's mouth. You have to have experience to know what you're talking about when you say things like that. And one thing no one can argue with, is that Hal Prince has experience.
When I was reading the review by Chris Jones for the Chicago Tribune, the biggest thing that stuck out to me was how he called several of the casting choices "a stretch". The one thing I have to point out here is that age and race shouldn't be things that make someone saying the casting isn't as good as it could have been. Also, with the creative team's experience and the fact that Hal Prince directed each segment, one has to think that each person was cast in each part for a reason. If the people with the most knowledge on the productions being represented and the cast representing them gave them a part, it was for a good reason. He also mentions that he doesn't get a good idea of "where the show wants to travel, visually". I on the other hand had a very good idea. It starts and ends on an empty stage, giving a tour of Prince's career and the things he had learned in between. Each production starts and ends with an empty stage, just as Prince's first and most recent shows did. That was the message I got out of it. Jones also wishes that the show "took a moment to explain much of anything about directing". I do find this point isn't valid because the show is about his career not how to direct.
While these are just some of the reviews for Prince of Broadway I wanted to share my thoughts. I did read more and I couldn't cram it all into one post. Again, there is no disrespect here to any of these critics and they have their own opinions like I have mine. Again, this post is not meant to devalue or take away merit from anything they have to say.