CD Review: THE PRINCE OF BROADWAY (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

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by Tony Frankel on May 22, 2018

in CD-DVD,Theater-New York


When I tell you that the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the revue covering Harold Prince’s oeuvre mostly works, it’s an enormous compliment. For here you have seven decades of the most voluminous career in the American Musical Theater crammed into one evening’s entertainment. Taking into account that Prince has produced or directed over 40 Broadway shows which encompass well over 800 songs and thousands of backstage anecdotes, where does one begin? The arrangements. Sure, insights into Prince’s vision and choices can certainly introduce and string numbers along, but this is a CD, so we don’t get the stories or representational costumes and sets, just the vocals and arrangements. Here’s a huge thanks for Prince disciple Jason Robert Brown, who was introduced to Prince by daughter Daisy, who directed Brown’s cabaret “Songs for a New World” before Brown moved over to the Prince of Broadway for Parade, which is represented in this nine-hander by “This Is Not over Yet.”

Jule Styne would be proud of Brown’s overture (co-orchestrated by Charlie Rosen): Gene Krupa-esque drums, big band panache, classical strings, and those trademark Brown rhythms offer famous tunes that blend effortlessly into each other with liquidity. Then we’re into “Heart” from Damn Yankees, which is just as, if not more, thrilling than any recording that came before (music direction by Fred Lassen). And as many times as we’ve heard the iconic “Tonight” from West Side Story, Kaley Ann Voorhees and Broadway superstar Tony Yazbeck (who later gets startlingly fresh orchestrations and tap moves for Buddy’s “The Right Girl” dance from Follies) can’t possibly be more achingly sweet. And when Brandon Uranowitz does a great comic take on “Tonight at Eight” from She Loves Me, discerning Broadway aficionados will notice an arc developing in the tunes — it’s how Prince develops a show told through the songs from those shows.

We also get a lesser-known tune (at least to OCB neophytes and certain millennials) given dynamite treatment: “You’ve Got Possibilities” from the unfortunate flop It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman (written by Bye Bye Birdie‘s Charles Strouse and Lee Adams in 1966); it’s sheer delight done by Janet Dacal and Michael Xavier. When you hear this, you may wonder why we didn’t get more of these instead of The Phantom of the Opera┬áperennial chestnuts “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and “The Music of the Night” — hasn’t that show gotten enough exposure already? And as wonderful as Dacal’s “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” is, I don’t get why bookwriter David Thompson and directors Prince and Susan Stroman didn’t trust less overdone tunes to get their point across. (Still, Bryonha Marie Parham nails “Cabaret” magnificently, and Xavier, who just doesn’t top Dean Jones or Ra├║l Esparza’s versions, gives emotional heft to “Being Alive.”)

On it goes for 22 tracks and 75 minutes through standards (Chuck Cooper’s forceful “Ol’ Man River” from Showboat) to warhorses (Cooper’s Arabic-more-than-Jewish “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler), Sondheim favorites (Emily Skinner’s lacerating, raw “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company), and emotional powerhouses (Karen Ziemba’s character-driven “So What?” from Cabaret).

And while I love Skinner’s take (and Brown and Michael B. Nelson’s swingin’ hot jazzy orchestrations) on “Now You Know” — from Merrily We Roll Along, that other unfortunate flop which gets better with every new revision — when is someone going to put the original lyrics back in? “I mean, socks have holes / I mean, roads have bumps / They make meatheads champs / And nice guys chumps / I mean, even cream of wheat has lumps.”

The show’s only original tune comes courtesy of Brown, who came up with a bouncing, brash, syncopated, Broadway rouser that could’ve used less on-the-nose lyrics about getting the job done in “Do the Work.” It’s highly improbable that any one revue can truly encompass Prince’s contributions, but all-in-all, this is a fitting tribute.

photos by Matthew Murphy

Prince of Broadway
Original Broadway Cast Recording
Ghostlight Records
16-page color booklet | 22 tracks | 74:46
released April 20, 2018
available at Ghostlight and Amazon

for more info, visit Prince of Broadway

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