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Prince of Broadway: Review, Pics, Video

In his new memoir Sense of Occasion, Hal Prince explains that Prince of Broadway, the new Broadway revue celebrating and sampling Prince’s extraordinary 70-year career in the theater, “was entirely the idea of a Canadian producer” (not, in other words, Prince’s idea), and concedes that it is in several ways at odds with the landmark musicals for which Prince is best known.

 

 

 

The revue is intended “just to entertain” while by contrast “I have a reputation for doing ‘dark’ musicals, and certainly I have done shows to create controversy, to make political or social statements,” says the legendary theater artist who was the original producer of West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof; director of Evita, Phantom of the Opera and Sweeney Todd; producer-director of Cabaret, Candide and Pacific Overtures.

Prince of Broadway is not dark and it doesn’t make a statement. (Knowledgeable theatergoers may well find it controversial as a result.) Yet, long after the unnamed Canadian dropped out of the project, Prince has made Prince of Broadway his own, choosing it for his first directing gig on Broadway in ten years. Despite what seems an ill-conceived idea, and for all its flaws, he and co-director Susan Stroman do manage to find some sweet spots in staging this highlights reel of a show.

Full review on DC Theater Scene .

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Harold Prince’s Memoir: “Sense of Occasion”

 

Harold Prince’s new memoir, “Sense of Occasion” (Applause Books, $29.99) — a conversational chronicle and candid analysis of his many hits, seminal musicals and occasional flops — includes a last chapter on his new show, “Prince of Broadway,” which opened last night; the book and the musical  were clearly timed to coincide with one another.

They have much in common. Both promise a retrospective of a 70-year career in the theater that is one of the most successful in American history. Both aim for breadth over depth — Prince offers his take on 46 of his shows in the book! — although obviously a 300-page book can go into more detail than a two and a half hour stage show. But if his new Broadway revue tries to recreate the original look and sound of popular musical numbers from shows that Prince produced or directed, his new memoir replicates his past work more directly. The first two-thirds of “Sense of Occasion” – 200 of its 300 pages – is a reprint of his 1974 memoir, “Contradictions: Notes on Twenty-Six Years in the Theatre” with updates entitled “Reflections” after each of the first 26 chapters.

Photographs and captions from the 16 pages of photographs in the book. Click to see enlarged.

 

 

 

 

The set-up can make for some odd and messy reading. In the five pages of Chapter 2, for example, he writes about “The Pajama Game,” the first show he produced on Broadway, and also his first big hit. He doesn’t tell us he won a Tony Award for it, nor that it was the first of his 21 Tony Awards, more than twice as many as anybody else has received. But he does tell us that when the musical opened on May 13, 1954, it had advance ticket sales “of only $40,000, which means it could only survive one week.” Then, however, in the page and a half that follows Chapter 2, entitled “Reflections on Chapter 2 of Contradictions,” he informs us: “The advance of the Pajama Game was $15,000, not $40,000. That means the show could have run for a performance and a half.”
Not all the “Reflections” are “Corrections.” But it’s baffling why Prince (with the help of an editor if need be) couldn’t simply have reworked the original chapters. Is his old memoir sacred text, requiring exegesis rather than rewrites? Or was this simply the most efficient way for a busy or distracted man to get a product to market on time?
In the last 100 pages, “Sense of Occasion” takes up where Prince left off in “Contradictions,” going show by show from 1974 to the present. There is no obvious sloppiness in the new chapters. But here too there are signs (albeit  more subtle) that Prince might not have been intensely focused on the writing of this memoir. In the chapter on “Sweeney Todd,” he writes of a recent London production that “took place in a specially constructed pie shop.” This is not inaccurate, but the Tooting Arts Club production of “Sweeney Todd” began in an actual pie shop, the century-old Harrington’s, before it transferred to a “specially constructed” space, certainly worth mentioning.
In the chapter on “Merrily We Roll Along,” the first of a five year string of flops, Prince writes about the end of the celebrated partnership between him and composer Stephen Sondheim, which had produced a steady stream of landmark musicals, including Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Candide, Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd:
“As a result of Merrily, both Steve and I, after more than a decade of successful collaboration, thought it would be advisable to sever our partnership. Had Merrily been a hit, our partnership would have been sustained. But it flopped, and we both moved on….we remain best friends…”
That’s it. This is an explanation that explains little, reveals little.
One wonders whether Prince’s discretion is one of the lessons learned from his first mentor, the legendary theater director George Abbott, who hired Prince in 1948 when the younger man had just graduated from college at the precocious age of 20, first to assist Abbott on a venture into television that didn’t pan out, but then keeping Prince steadily employed and advancing his career. Prince admired Abbott for keeping the theatricality restricted to the stage — remaining calm and reserved during the many crises of putting together a show. This might not have been Prince’s natural approach, but it is something he aspired to from the get-go:
“I realize that my presence in the office was abrasive. I was smiley and enthusiastic and overenergized. So, recognizing that, one morning I wrote at the top of my desk calendar (for an entire year!): ‘WATCH IT!!!”

In a sense, Prince’s memoir also reflects the philosophy recently expressed by Stephen Sondheim in a different context – that directors should serve the text rather than themselves. If in “Sense of Occasion” Prince offers little in the way of personal revelation or even personal anecdote, it is full of shop talk – enough of it for a certain class of theater lover to dismiss any claims of literary infelicity as so much irrelevant quibbling.

Prince does drop in a few amusing tidbits, such as the time that a singer named Jay Harnick brought his mother to a backer’s audition for “The Pajama Game.” Prince politely complimented Jay Harnick’s mother for her son’s talent. “She said if I thought Jay was talented, I should meet her other son.” That’s how Prince met her other son, Sheldon Harnick, who would write the lyrics for the Prince-produced “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Fiorello” and for “She Loves Me,” which Prince both directed and produced.

Prince also establishes himself as opinionated, digressing on occasion to pontificate about critics and ticket prices (he supports dynamic pricing) and unions (“If you lived up to the letter of your contracts with any of the affiliated guilds and unions, you would never get a show on.”) He even lets us know he doesn’t like “Hello, Dolly!” because it’s the kind of musical where “songs are utterly unmotivated” and “characters react inconsistently for laughs.”

But the greatest strength of “Sense of Occasion” rests in the insights Prince offers into the way he works. For each show he directs, he searches for what he calls a metaphor, which then helps guide him. He saw “Cabaret” as a play about civil rights, “the problem of blacks in America, about how it can happen here.” “Phantom of the Opera,” he tells us, is about our instinctive response to deformity, which is to pull back, followed by our realization that our response was irrational. To each new company of Phantom he tells a personal anecdote of his reaction when a leper shook his hand.

At 12 pages, the chapter on Phantom is the longest and most detailed — including a story I had not heard before of producer Cameron Mackintosh  firing Prince from the show because he wanted an English director, causing Prince to “blurt out the f-word” and stalk off. (Prince was rehired about three weeks later.)

The greater attention on Phantom surely has something to do with its success, the longest-running show in Broadway history, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary on January 26, 2018 – four days before Harold Smith Prince turns 90 years old.

Hal Prince seems just as engaged with some of his old flops as his continued successes, and after 70 years in show business, he expresses what seems a clear-eyed perspective about his extraordinary career  “Broadway is not the place to look for loyalty from the public,” he writes in “Sense of Occasion,” “and sad as that is to the ego, it is one of the best things you can say about Broadway.”

Buy “Sense of Occasion”

Broadway Poll: Favorite Fall 2017 Show?

Broadway Fall 2017 collageChoose the show that you are most looking forward to. The list below is for shows that have opening dates on Broadway from September 2017 to January 2018 as of this writing, and they are listed chronologically by opening date.
For more information about any of the shows, read my Broadway 2017-2018 Preview Guide.

Ticket Giveaway: Indecent

Indecent Dance Photo

Ticket Givewaway: Win two tickets to see Indecent for free. I loved this show, a fascinating backstage tale written by Paula Vogel and wondrously staged by  Rebecca Taichman (who won a Tony for it) about a century-old Jewish drama called “The God of Vengeance.” That Yiddish play featured a scandalizing kiss between two women, which resulted in the Broadway cast being prosecuted for obscenity. Indecent explores a range of frighteningly relevant issues,  and it is at times inexpressibly heartbreaking. But it is not only enlightening and moving; it is rousing entertainment; with so much dancing and singing and toe-tapping music you’re likely to remember it as a musical.

I was delighted Indecent was given a reprieve — the producers had announced it would end June 25 , but then decided to extend through August 6th.

And I’m  even more delighted to offer a pair of tickets. To enter the contest for the tickets, just answer this question:

What is your favorite show that explores serious issues in an entertaining way?

Update:  I am asking for you to talk about how a show is serious AND also entertaining. (Some of you have only been answering how it’s serious.)

The Rules:

  1. Please put your answer in the comments at the bottom of this blog post, because I will choose the winner at random, using Random.org, based on the order of your reply, not its content.
  2.  But you must answer the question, complete with description, or your entry will not be approved for submission.
  3. This contest ends Wednesday July 19, 2017 at midnight Eastern Time, and I will make the drawing no later than noon the next day. You must respond within 12 hours or I will pick another winner.

 

The winner will get a voucher for two tickets to see Indecent between July 26 and July 29. (The voucher must be submitted by July 21st.)

 

Update: There are two winners, chosen at random on Random.org based on the order of their reply:

Erin Quill, number 12 in order of reply.

Mike Ming, number 45.

Discount codes for the rest of you, to save up to 35 percent on tickets through August 6, 2017, when Indecent ends on Broadway.
Balcony seats from $39
Mezzanine seats from $71
Select Orchestra seats at $89

3 WAYS TO BUY YOUR TICKETS:
1. ONLINE: Click Here
or Visit TelechargeOffers.com & enter code:
INLSP110
2. BY PHONE:
Call 212-947-8844 & mention code:
INLSP110
3. IN PERSON: Print this offer & bring to CORT THEATRE, 138 W. 48th St. NY, NY

 

 

 

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Watch Groundhog Day at Bryant Park, 3 Songs

Andy Karl, Barrett Doss and more than a dozen other cast members of the Broadway musical “Groundhog Day” performed three songs at the Broadway at Bryant Park lunchtime concert today: Nobody Cares, If I Had My Time Again, and Seeing You

Fourth of July Patriotism on Broadway: Excerpts from Hamilton to Hello Dolly

As Americans celebrate our 241st Fourth of July, it’s bracing to realize that the most patriotic new show on Broadway is “Come From Away,” a musical about Canada.

But American patriotism on Broadway is not just a thing of the past, in musicals such as George M and Will Rogers Follies.  Several current Broadway shows offer their own patriotic moments, albeit filtered through the 21st century. Excerpts below

Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton

America, you great unfinished symphony
You sent for me
You let me make a difference
A place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up
I’m running out of time, I’m running and my time’s up 􏰀 Wise up􏰀
Eyes up

 

Bandstand

A group of World War II veterans who’ve formed into a band rebel against the sponsors of a song contest

All they want to do is
use our uniforms and wave us around like flags. We’re not props, Donny. We’re not for sale. We’ve already given them everything we got. We’re goddamn United States veterans, and these people wouldn’t know real sacrifice if it slapped ’em in the face.

 

The Schuyler sisters in Hamilton

ANGELICA 
I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine. So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane.
You want a revolution? I wanna revelation
so listen to my declaration
ELIZA/ANGELICA/PEGGY 
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
ANGELICA
And when I meet Thomas Jefferson… I’m a compel him to include women in the sequel.
ELIZA 
Look around look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!
ELIZA/ANGELICA/PEGGY 
History is happening in Manhattan and we
Just happen to be in the greatest city in the world

 

Emilio Estefan in On Your Feet

(A record company executive has just told him to change his name and his music in order to “cross over” outside “the Latin market”)
When I first got to Miami there was a sign in front of the apartment building next to ours. It said, “No Pets. No Cubans.” Change my name? It’s not my name to change. It’s my father’s name. It was my grandfather’s name. My grandfather, who we left behind in Cuba to come here and build a new life. Now, for 15 years I’ve worked my ass off and paid my taxes. So, I’m not sure where you think I live… but this is my home. And you should look very closely at my face, because whether you know it or not… this is what an American looks like. We’ll do it on our own.

 

Dawn in Waitress

Dawn is talking with her fellow waitresses about her personal profile for a dating site

 Dawn: “Ecstatically alive, enthusiastically American, dynamic and witty, I am a woman of many passions, including a rare turtle collection. I love the History Channel.
Jenna: Now that’s nice
Dawn: Note: I have played Betsy Ross in 33 Revolutionary War Reenactments.”
Jenna: ….Okay…. That’ll set you apart from the crowd –
Dawn: I’m calling myself “NewDawnRising.”

 

Ogie in Waitress

Ogie has responded to Dawn’s profile.

Ogie: So I’ll pick you up on Sunday at 7?
Dawn: Maybe?
Ogie: Maybe! Maybe! There’s a reading at Rainard Park of the Federalist Papers.
Dawn: How do you know about that?
Ogie: I played Paul Revere in 42 Revolutionary War re-enactments. Well actually, 40 times technically I was the standby Revere but 2 times Paul was out – so I did actually play it, although one of those times I got injured halfway through, I had a bayonet issue– fell off my horse and had to have my spleen removed.
Dawn: “One if by land, two if by sea…”
Ogie: “…and I on the opposite shore will be!”

 

War Paint

Helena Rubinstein gets back in the cosmetics game

This is the time to reach my goal.
My American moment. I hereby take a vow.
I vow to win the heart and soul
Of American women. This is my mission now.
I’ll show them they have faces of power and resplendence,
a backbone and a basis
to assert their independence.
When they achieve their rightful role, their American moment, equal and adored, that American moment
will be my reward.

Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden make the most of war-time rationing during World War II

Through thick and thin, Manila to Berlin!
Or helping defend our freedom from “the enemy within” –
America will make it!
No enemy can break it!
With make-up made to take it on the chin!
Necessity is the mother of invention!
Brains and brawn! Brains and brawn! Dusk to dawn! Women win!

Hello, Dolly!

When the whistles blow
And the cymbals crash
And the sparklers light the sky
I’m gonna raise the roof
I’m gonna carry on
Give me an old trombone
Give me an old baton
Before the parade passes by!

 

Marvin’s Room Review: Dying, and Laughing, and Loving

There’s a story told in “Marvin’s Room” of a young man named Clarence who took a swim during a beachfront picnic, dunking down into the water and popping back up several times, each time laughing harder, which got his friends and family to laugh along with him.

“Laughing and choking looked the same on Clarence,” the storyteller concludes. “He drowned right in front of us.”

The anecdote can be taken as playwright Scott McPherson’s sly commentary on his own play, a 1991 comedy about two sisters who reunite after a 20-year estrangement. So much is so sad in the lives of Bessie (Lily Taylor) and Lee (Janeane Garofalo, in her Broadway debut) as to make the audience fully justified in wondering: Should we be laughing at this?

Yet laugh we do, thanks to the playwright’s subversive worldview, and a production directed with unflashy effectiveness by Anne Kauffman (The Nether, A Life, etc. etc), who is, remarkably, making her Broadway debut. She steers the uniformly credible cast through a sometimes flighty comedy ultimately grounded in compassion.

Bessie has been taking care of her father, Marvin, who has been dying for the last 20 years. (We only see Marvin in vague shadow, behind the glass brick of the room he never leaves.)   She is also in effect the caretaker of Marvin’s sister Aunt Ruth (Celia Weston), whose brain has been wired to stop the debilitating back pain she’s had since birth. In the first scene of the play, we see Bessie in a doctor’s office, and eventually learn she has leukemia.

Her illness leads to the visit to Bessie’s Florida house by her sister Lee, who makes the trip from her home in Ohio with her two children, Charlie (Luca Padovan) and Hank (Jack DiFalco). One of the three may be a match for a bone marrow transplant. Hank had to be borrowed temporarily from the mental institution to which he has been committed for burning down the family house.

So what is funny about any of this?

It’s all in the spin. Three quick examples: In that first scene, Bessie is increasingly nervous dealing with Dr. Wally (Triney Sandoval), a doctor who is so absent-minded that he calls Bessie June, which is the name of his dog; has trouble finding or even identifying his doctor’s tools; and rips open a sterile bag of cotton balls with his teeth. In Bessie’s house, the wiring in Aunt Ruth’s brain keep on causing the garage door to open. When in Ohio Lee tells 17-year-old Hank about his aunt Bessie’s condition, he says: “This is the first I’ve heard of her. “

Lee: “,,,,Well I know I’ve mentioned her. She’s my sister.”

Hank: “I didn’t know you had a sister.”

Lee: You know how at Christmas I always say, ‘it looks like Bessie didn’t send a card this year either.’”

Hank:Oh yeah.”

They get away (sometimes just barely) with the wackier of these comic touches because they are counterbalanced by the more realistic ones, and because the actors pull it off.

It probably needs to be said that the eight performers of this production must labor against the memory of the 1996 film with its impossibly starry cast — Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton as the sisters, Leonardo diCaprio as the troubled son Hank, even Robert DeNiro as the absent-minded doctor. (Bit parts went to Cynthia Nixon, Hume Cronyn, and Kelly Ripa!) But there is only one memory from the movie that intruded on my appreciation of the Broadway production – the heartbreaking moment when Diane Keaton as the frail Bessie says how lucky she has been to have been able to take care of her father and her aunt; “I’ve had such love in my life.” It’s not that there is anything wrong with Taylor’s delivery, only that Keaton’s was so memorable. As Lee, Janeane Garafola, who started her career as a stand-up comedian, is a thoroughly competent dramatic actress (if not yet Meryl Streep), giving a straightforward performance in a role that is not as substantive as Lee’s sister.

It is Bessie who is really the soul of “Marvin’s Room,” her selflessness and efficiency not just contrasting with the selfishness and/or incompetence of those around her, but subtly transforming nearly everybody, including her sister. We see this effect even in the largely comic character of Aunt Ruth, whose portrayal by Celia Weston is one of the two stand-out performances in this revival. We also see Bessie’s effect in the other stand-out performance, Jack DiFalco as Hank. The playwright depicts the character benevolently, making Hank’s deranged arson into little more than a punch line, almost a rite of passage for sullen teenagers. Still, DiFalco, in impressive contrast to the blunt-force performance he gave as a criminal teenager of the future in Mercury Fur (a style required for that play), creates a character with more of an internal life than an external one. He has a deadpan delivery, but somehow lets us know there’s struggling, and thinking and growing going on in there.  It is a character we not only believe, but feel for. We wind up sharing in the playwright’s guarded optimism in the face of defeat, all the more singular since, shortly after the debut of his play,Scott McPherson died of AIDS, at the unholy young age of 33.

 

Marvin’s Room
Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater
Written by Scott McPherson; Original music by Daniel Kluger
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Scenic Design by Laura Jellinek; Costume Design by Jessica Pabst; Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman; Sound Design by Daniel Kluger; Hair and Wig Design by Leah J. Loukas; Makeup Design by Leah J. Loukas
Cast: Janeane Garofalo as Lee, Lili Taylor as Bessie, Celia Weston as Ruth, Jack DiFalco as Hank, Carman Lacivita, Nedra McClyde, Luca Padovan as Charlie, Triney Sandoval as Dr. Wally

Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission

Tickets: $47 to $147

Marvin’s Room is scheduled to run through August 27, 2017