Sound Advice Reviews
Prince of Broadway
PRINCE OF BROADWAY
Much of what there was to puzzle over or be perturbed about when it came to the production of Prince of Broadway is pretty much besides the point when considering the merits and minuses of the cast recording. We need to put aside thoughts of how the career, stamp and style of producer/director Harold Prince was or could have been saluted or summed up, saluted, or "seen" visually. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Forget that the Prince persona was presented by the various actors traipsing about with spectacles atop their heads as Prince was oft pictured. The Broadway revue presented songs from Broadway mountings the man helmed or had a significant hand in. You have to hand it to this cast for bravura vocals and vigor, and remember that the latest show to get Prince's guiding hand was this production itself, co-directed by him and Susan Stroman, who choreographed.
We may assume that the moments the singers evidence echoing or eschewing the Prince imprints of star performances of yore for some iconic characters is what the man himself wants. As always, those well versed in previous performances of memorable showstoppers might now try to stop letting the past intrude on the present. That was a tall order for the characters in the Prince-supervised original Follies and it's a challenge whenever we listen to new renditions of old faves. Easier said than done. Legendary stars have their ghosts and, when it comes to orchestrations and arrangements ingrained in our memories from repeated listenings to cast albums, does familiarity breed contempt or contentment when hearing the latest take on what we remember so well?
When it comes to bowing to Prince of Broadway as done on stage in Japan (2015) and on Broadway (2017), those who saw it or know the score, let's acknowledge the elephant(s) not in the room. What's missing beyond the nuance and charisma compared to definitive, ideal renderings is no small matter. Over a dozen pieces sung in the production are not on the recording. One can guess that if the Broadway version had run more than a couple of months, what was recorded and preserved as a single CD would instead have been a double-CD set. Just as with the quibbling about which songs and shows should have been represented in the cavalcade honoring the many Prince projects since the 1950s, this isn't the time or place to discuss or lament what's included for the 2017 cast recording and what wasn't. I can't review what wasn't recorded.
The overture is a musical orgy, starting the proceedings with a dazzling montage of melodies and it raises the bar right off. With a sumptuous banquet of appetizers that includes the briefest snippets to more generous-length previews. It's a musical theatre fan's version of Heaven. "Broadway Baby" from Follies becomes an appropriate anchor and is infused with excitement. Send our thank-you note to music supervisor Jason Robert Brown whose arrangement sparkles, conductor Fred Lassen, and the orchestra, enlarged from the stage personnel by two players: a second cellist and a second bassist, making for an ensemble of 18. Brown is also represented by his music and lyrics for "This Is Not Over Yet" from his score for Parade (seething passion in Tony Yazbeck's fervent hope on this one) and an original piece at the end, the Prince mantra of the work ethic: "Do the Work," sung by the company with spirit and spunk. The multi-tasker also produced the album with veteran Jeffrey Lesser.
With the unenviable assignment of tackling "The Ladies Who Lunch" (Sondheim, Company), requiring exorcism of Elaine Stritch's indelible idiosyncratic ways and the original spot-on 1970 instrumental accompaniment, does "everybody rise" to the occasion? Emily Skinner manages to maneuver her way through the ranting and skewering with fresh twists and turns, the role being a stretch for the former soprano ingenue, but she is not trying to slavishly copy or out-Stritch Stritch. Doing yeoman's work in adding to the menu, Karen Ziemba gets to sink her teeth into "The Worst Pies in London," a nod to Sweeney Todd, another of the several partnerships of the master director and Sondheim.
Chuck Cooper's "Ol' Man River" flows nicely, but the choice of a few alternate lyric lines is distracting. While he may be an unlikely Tevye, his "If I Were a Rich Man" is more on the money than not. Taking liberties in tempo, he also speaks a few lines that I'd rather hear sung, but he's contrastingly pouring on more vocal oomph in other passages. One of the most appealing tracks is Brandon Uranowitz's wonderfully worry-warty precipitous panic attack pondering what will happen "Tonight at Eight" on the highly anticipated date that is a key plot element in She Loves Me. From the same musical, showing the analogous anticipating from his rendezvous, the jumble of self-doubt "Will He Like Me?" is handled with aplomb and charm by Katy Ann Voorhees, whose soprano is as smooth and tasty as vanilla ice cream. Disappointingly, it sounds anemic and lackluster on a lumbering "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" (Phantom of the Opera) and I'm left wishing it would soar. That same melodramatic musical, which has been running on Broadway longer than an eon, "The Music of the Night" feels rather labored in Michael Xavier's lumbering track. He seems more in his comfort zone being suitably uncomfortable with the emotional demands of truly "Being Alive," albeit going over the edge to the abyss when giving into the temptation/trap called angst when handling this Company. Karen Ziemba, so often the role model for tasteful balance, goes into even more overwrought ranting in Cabaret's "So What?"
Bryonha Marie Parham's stomp through that musical's title song comes off as cumbersome and, well, noisy in its blunt, brash bellowing. Janet Dacal makes "You've Got Possibilities" an appealingly bubbly romp (It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman). This is a major highlight, the best of the sunny side of musical comedy, while I find Tony Yazbeck doing right by "The Right Girl" from Follies, redolent with rue and sadness, dancing around denial without going for broke and overkill. It feels acted and connected.
Although no spoken moments from David Thompson's book may be heard, his interesting and anecdotal notes about Prince are in the booklet which comes with the physical CD. There are color photos and full credits. And, while this one man's two ears hear some disappointing sections, the 22-track cast recording still casts a spell with its high points.