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BWW Review: PRINCE OF BROADWAY Conquers Audiences in Tokyo and Beyond

Billed as "a new musical", the world premiere of Prince of Broadway at Tokyu Theatre Orb in Shibuya, Tokyo, salutes legendary Broadway producer/director, Harold Prince, who requires no introduction. Co-directed by Prince himself and Susan Stroman (who also choreographs all the musical numbers), the evening celebrates an illustrious career spanning over six decades from the 1950s up to the present day, during which time Hal Prince has produced and/or directed more than 30 Broadway shows, winning a record 21 Tony Awards along the way.

According to Frank Rich (1991), "a producer must have the cunning of a master politician, the wiliness of a snake-oil salesman, the fanatical drive of a megalomaniac, and... nerves of steel. It doesn't hurt, either, to have some taste and a consuming passion for the stage". As a Broadway producer, Mr Prince amply demonstrated these qualities by mounting such classics as The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, Fiorello!, Flora the Red Menace, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, and Fiddler on the Roof. To this day, these shows remain audience favorites which are often revived in New York, London and elsewhere. For instance, this season will see a Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, together with a separate mounting in Australia starring Anthony Warlow.

In the 1960s, Hal Prince began directing shows on Broadway, starting with She Loves Me (which will also be revived on Broadway this season), It's A Bird... It's A Plane... It's Superman, Cabaret and Zorba (recently revived at City Center). In the 70s, he scored a series of critical successes collaborating with Stephen Sondheim on Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd. Outside his association with Sondheim, the highlights of Prince's directing career also included Cy Coleman's On the Twentieth Century (revived on Broadway last season), Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita and Phantom of the Opera (the longest-running musical in Broadway history), Kander & Ebb's Kiss of the Spider Woman, and LIVENT's smash hit revival of Show Boat.

Narrated in Japanese by Masachika Ichimura (who appeared in the Japanese premieres of Phantom and Spider Woman) as the Voice of Hal Prince, Prince of Broadway is the musical theatre aficionado's holy grail, filled to the brim with powerhouse performances of unforgettable showstoppers from many of the aforementioned musicals written by Broadway legends including Kander & Ebb ("All I Need Is One Good Break", "Wilkommen" and "Dressing Them Up"), Adler & Ross ("Heart" and "Whatever Lola Wants"), Leonard Bernstein ("Something's Coming" and "Tonight"), Bock & Harnick ("Tonight At Eight", "Will He Like Me?" and "If I Were A Rich Man"), Strouse & Adams ("You've Got Possibilities"), Sondheim ("Lovely", "Ladies Who Lunch", "Waiting For the Girls Upstairs", "Send In the Clowns" and "The Worst Pies in London"), Andrew Lloyd Webber ("Don't Cry for Me Argentina", "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" and "Phantom of the Opera") and Kern & Hammerstein ("Can't Help Lovin' That Man").

Three-time Tony winner, Jason Robert Brown, has been enlisted as Musical Supervisor to orchestrate an exhilarating Overture using musical fragments from 15 of Prince's musicals, and to pen a new song ("Wait 'Til You See What's Next") to close the show. Brown's Tony-winning Parade, originally directed by Prince at Lincoln Center, is also featured here with the soaring "This Is Not Over Yet".

Recipient of a National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton for a career that "changed the nature of the American musical", Hal Prince has not been immune to epic failures. In 1981, the premature closure of the problematic Merrily We Roll Along (represented here by "Now You Know") after 52 previews and 16 regular performances practically ended Prince and Sondheim's professional relationship until the duo reunited in 2003 for the Chicago/Washington D.C. runs of Bounce, which was subsequently reconceived off-Broadway as Road Show by British director John Doyle. Prince's flops also included Larry Grossman's very ambitious A Doll's Life and Grind.

The show currently playing at the Shibuya venue features a cast predominantly imported from New York including Josh Grisetti (It Shoulda Been You), Shuler Hensley (Oklahoma!), Nancy Opel (Urinetown), Bryonha Marie Parham (The Gershwin's Porgy & Bess), Emily Skinner (Side Show), Mariand Torres (Wicked), Kaley Ann Voorhees (Phantom of the Opera), Tony Yazbek (On The Town), and Canadian-Iranian Ramin Karimloo who has played the Phantom (in both the original and its sequel Love Never Dies) in the West End, as well as Jean Valjean (Les Miserables) in London, Toronto and New York. In Prince of Broadway, Karimloo reincarnates the Opera Ghost with a chilling rendition of "Music of the Night", in addition to playing multiple other roles such as Tony in West Side Story ("Something's Coming"), Che in Evita ("A New Argentina"), Bobby in Company ("Being Alive") and Clark Kent/Superman. Complementing the mostly American company is Reon Yuzuki, former star of the all-female Takarazuka Revue. Ms Yuzuki's singing and dancing skills are showcased in the Act Two "Times Square Ballet" (comprising numbers from Flora the Red Menace, Follies, Fiorello!, Tenderloin and Grind), "Whatever Lola Wants" (which she sings in English), and "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (which she performs in her native Japanese).

Beowulf Boritt's cleverly designed sets fly in and out of the picture-frame proscenium stage at the Orb. Particularly impressive are the silver Cabaret curtain which rises to reveal the Phantom's misty lair, the steel-frame sets for Company (pictured above) apparently inspired by Boris Aronson's original designs, and Molina and Valentin's bare prison cell which rotates to become Mrs Lovett's pie shop. William Ivey Long's ravishing costumes complement the stage designs very nicely indeed.

Prince of Broadway continues its limited run at Tokyu Theatre Orb in Tokyo until 22 November, and then will move on to conquer the Umeda Arts Theater in Osaka from 28 November to 10 December.

Photo credits: Beowulf Boritt

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From This Author Bonny Loo

Bonny Loo is a theatre-holic, cultural tourist and Sondheim fanatic. He was Editor-in-Chief of his high school newspaper "Starlet" and studied Journalism for a year (read more...)