Prince Of Broadway

Started by scenicdesign71, Jul 25, 2017, 05:54 PM

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Just because it should probably have its own thread, no?   I'm looking forward to seeing this, anyway...


I'm excited and scared.

Oh wait, that's not a Prince show.   :))

I actually am going to the first preview.  At least it's known up front that these won't be an attempt at full recreations (alla Jerome Robbins' Broadway) which could have happened depending on choreographers' approvals.  But I guess Dame Susan Stro would have had nothing of it.

It makes me a little sorry-grateful.  I had hoped there would be a section about his frequent collaborators like Tharon, Boris and Florence (there was always one leading lady red dress in each show; could you imagine a stage full of 'em?).


I managed to snag a pair of lottery tix Saturday night -- surprisingly decent seats, as it turned out, for $35 plus fees: first-row "Premier Circle" (aka front mezz), albeit quite far over to the left.  But from what I could tell, the Friedman's sightlines (and/or those of Beowulf's sets and Prince/Stro's staging and choreography) seem to afford even our far-side seats perfectly acceptable views of everything.

In brief, I enjoyed it; though by no means a flawless evening, I left feeling as though the worst of the complainers on BWW were too in love with the sound of their own whining to enjoy the show on its own -- limited, but serviceable -- merits.

Go expecting POB to bring Prince's glory days blazing back to life, and you're bound to emerge feeling shortchanged and/or depressed.  Jerome Robbins's Broadway, which I saw at 16, remains my touchstone for that kind of monument-making at its most successful (it was actually my first honest-to-god Broadway show, i.e. not a national tour or a PBS taping, etc.).  But JRB was pretty much one-of-a-kind, and invaluably helped by the simple fact that Robbins was a choreographer -- not to mention the historic design-recreation helmed by Robin Wagner, with the cooperation of the relevant then-still-living original designers, notably the great Oliver Smith.  And even JRB had its naysayers.

POB is a quirkier and more modestly-scaled retrospective, and admittedly not wholly successful as either history lesson, autobiography, or greatest-hits compilation, though it contains at least a few reasonably satisfying nuggets of each.  Mostly, it's just an entertaining scrapbook -- with all the gaps and idiosyncrasies that implies -- and a probably-last chance to see work on Broadway (after last spring's charming Candide remount at NYCO) that's been at least nominally overseen by the man himself, without resorting to the eternal PotO.  If his grasp seems less commanding than it was thirty or forty years ago, and his choices sometimes eccentric... well, he is on the brink of 90, nearly twenty years older than Robbins was when he put together JRB.  Add to this the sheer range of Prince's career -- and the inherent problem, for a show like this, that almost no one really understands just what it is that directors (much less producers) actually do -- and it's not so surprising that POB is a more scattershot affair, mostly eschewing conceptual rigor or barnstorming razzle-dazzle in favor of smooth professionalism illuminated by the occasional flash of thoughtfulness and/or wit.  (A few more such flashes wouldn't hurt: bookwriter David Thompson's meager connective tissue is the show's weakest link).

This must be one of the smallest casts Prince has worked with in quite some time, and not always comfortably so: the Evita redux is comically underpopulated, and Sweeney's "Swing your razor wide" chorus numbers precisely three, as do Follies's "Beautiful Girls" (Phyllis, Sally and a single iconic Showgirl, engulfed by Norse's Fragonard-by-way-of-Aronson lace-filigree nightmare and hymned by an offstage -- or pre-recorded? -- Michael Xavier).  Still, each of the nine performers has one or two incandescent moments; a few bring down the house (notably Tony Yazbek triple-threat-ing the holy living shit out of "The Right Girl"); and I'd pay Broadway prices in a heartbeat to see Emily Skinner take on any of her roles here in full productions of Follies (Phyllis), Night Music (Desirée), Company (Joanne), and sure, Merrily (Mary) for good measure (though I'm not in love with Jason Robert Brown's tempo-alternating arrangement of "Now You Know").  Gracefully sidestepping the daunting performance histories that inevitably haunt both "Send in the Clowns" and "Ladies Who Lunch," Skinner's exquisitely detailed renditions sit quite comfortably among the best performances of those songs I've heard. (It also doesn't hurt that she looks fantastic while singing them, in William Ivey Long's glamorous dresses and Paul Huntley's flawless wigs; even with relatively little to do as Phyllis in "Waiting Around...", she's a knockout in Flossie-inspired red).  I hadn't previously known Skinner's work well enough to call myself a true fan, but I'll certainly pay attention henceforth.

More later: about Norse's set, and perhaps comparing Prince of Broadway with Sondheim on Sondheim (which I loved, though I will say that once per decade-or-so is probably plenty for this kind of anthology/revue)...


Quote from: scenicdesign71 on Aug 21, 2017, 04:14 PM(A few more such flashes wouldn't hurt: bookwriter David Thompson's meager connective tissue is the show's weakest link).

When it was there; I HATE HATE HATE that the narration wasn't always.
Did you catch that the original Designer's name appeared on each set in some place?  I went back tonight and there were 5 shows I still couldn't find...
You know what this made me yearn for?  A Michael Bennett anthology/revue.


I caught Aronson's signature in lieu of Fragonard's on the Loveland lace portal, and "Eckart" above the door to Maraczek's.  And I had seen a photo of Aronson's name (in Hebrew!) etched into Tevye's dairycart on Norse's Facebook timeline.  I wondered whether he'd followed through with all the other designers' names, but didn't have the presence of mind to check consistently.

I wouldn't mind seeing this again myself, so maybe I'll manage to scan the set more carefully for names the second time.


Michael Feingold's review is, as usual, among the more perceptive:

And I'm not just saying that because he happens to agree with my specific sense of why a show like this might be impossible, by nature, to pull off altogether successfully.  Brantley nudges up to that point without ever quite making it (or forgiving the show -- as it seems few do -- for not being able to wrestle its innate, perhaps insuperable, challenges into tidy submission; his "dinner theatre" jab seems particularly unkind).

I'm not too surprised, but I am disappointed, that so many viewers seem to believe that POB's strengths (when they're even acknowledged as such) are so vastly outweighed by its shortcomings.  Myself, I lean in the other direction: though not a perfect evening, I found it a hugely enjoyable one; furthermore, its problems -- in typically Prince-ly manner -- seemed to me as interesting and thought-provoking as its strengths.


LaFeingold does indeed point out the major problem:  how can you show what makes Prince so great?

I wish there had been a way of having a scene done twice to show how Prince directs or shows how to draw focus.

I do think the first act is better constructed than the second.


From BWW, with closeup photos of most of the hidden names:

Not shown (or mentioned): I'm pretty sure Eugene Lee's name appears on the Show Boat backdrop, camouflaged as part of the woodgrain on the levee or something.  I didn't notice this when I saw the show, but when I looked at a wide-shot photo of the scene a few days later, I thought I could faintly make out L-E-E hiding in the paintwork.


Another interesting review — perhaps my favorite yet — by a writer unfamiliar to me (apparently Jesse Green's replacement at New York/Vulture):

Where other reviewers, even Feingold, have been largely content to anatomize POB's shortcomings with a disappointed sigh, Ms. Holdren devotes a healthy percentage of her word count to frank, enthusiastic appreciation of the evening's considerable pleasures, before cheerfully going her colleagues one better to pinpoint -- with satisfying precision and palpable respect for Prince and his collaborators -- precisely what it is that's missing.

Like Feingold, Holdren acknowledges the inherent problem of anthologizing the work of a director/producer, and the tendency of such a revue to glorify its songwriters more than its intended honoree. She offers an astute point of comparison with Sondheim On Sondheim, and a bit of fresh grist for the age-old SJS-vs.-ALW mill, calling Sondheim "the secret star of POB" (and Webber a cynical P.T. Barnum!).  What she thankfully doesn't do is waste her megaphone on pointless quibbling over which songs made the cut, how "she wouldn't look Jewish at all" plays out of context, or whether anyone should sing "The Ladies Who Lunch" ever again now that Stritch is gone.  Most interesting are the final four paragraphs in which Holdren identifies just what it is that POB's slick, peppy, yet anemic book misses about its subject.  I won't try to summarize her answer, but I think she's onto something -- if you haven't yet clicked over to the review, it's well worth a read.


About the original Designers' signatures: Eugene Lee's "Tea" box is also in Show Boat for the pantry scene; I didn't look during "Old Man River" (I was still angry about the Cotton Blossom being a steamboat!!!).  The names on the mikes for Evita??  Boooo, too far away unless you're in the front row!  I had gotten all the Act I ones; those Act II ones are VERY tricky.

Yes, that really is an excellent Vulture piece!

I had gone back - after le scandale of "Now You Know"/Merrily... - and still feel sorry/grateful about the whole piece.

I can't figure out still for whom the show is: an introduction for people unfamiliar?  A mini-scrapbook?  I think the POV isn't strong enough.

The INCONSISTENCY really gets to me--if you narrate to explain one area, do it all over!  People thought that Lois Lane was flirting with Clark Kent in the ...Superman number and that's not who she is--Clark saying "Hi Sidney!" is not enough of a cue.

I get that yes, the space is always seen as you're showing what can be with each set/concept.  But the cheapness of Evita??  AAA!  The ideas done for POTO still reflected the beauty of the show in a new form so how come not for Evita?  Cripes, nearly every Prince show had a bridge; why not have one on the set to use over and over??

Cutting Lucille out of "This is Not Over Yet" (Parade) robs the song of its meaning to me when she joins in.  But that may be more sentimental.

I think what really gets my goat is the Tevye taking his hat off without anything to keep his head covered.  It just shows a detail that Prince should have immediately grabbed onto and corrected to me!


There's a box of Lee tea on Mrs. Lovett's shelf in Sweeney -- is there something similar in Show Boat as well?


Quote from: scenicdesign71 on Oct 08, 2017, 02:59 AMThere's a box of Lee tea on Mrs. Lovett's shelf in Sweeney -- is there something similar in Show Boat as well?
Yes indeed!