Now here’s an out-of-town tryout: Hal Prince’s long-gestating retrospective musical Prince Of Broadway will begin performances on October 23 at Theatre Orb. That’s not the newest name-change for a Broadway house. It’s in Tokyo.
Staged by the incomparable showman in collaboration with director-choreographer Susan Stroman (The Producers) and book writer David Thompson (The Scottsboro Boys), Prince Of Broadway will feature a cast of stage luminaries including Shuler Hensley (Oklahoma!) Ramin Karimloo (Les Misérables), Nancy Opel (Honeymoon In Vegas), David Pittu (Love Musik), Emily Skinner (Billy Elliot) and Josh Grisetti (It Shoulda Been You).
The show is being produced by the Umeda Arts Theater. Prince Of Broadway will initially run at Tokyu Theatre Orb in Tokyo and then move to the Umeda Arts Theater in Osaka from November 28 through December 10. Given Prince’s unmatched and probably unbeatable stash of 21 Tony Awards — as the producer or director of shows ranging over six decades from West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Fiddler On The Roof (which is being revived on Broadway this fall), Cabaret, a decade of Stephen Sondheim musicals beginning with Company in 1970 and ending with Merrily We Roll Along in 1981, Evita and The Phantom of The Opera — it may be hard to imagine how a figure of such eminence had to go begging for capital to put on a show.
But that’s an aspect of Broadway that never changes, no matter how long you’ve been around, how many hits you have notched on your belt and how much money you’ve made for yourself and others. I recall shadowing Prince with Betty Comden and Adolph Green at backers’ auditions to raise money for A Doll’s Life more than three decades ago. (At 87, with a show-business career that began in the offices of writer and producer George Abbott in the 1940s, Prince has had more than his share of equally legendary flops as well, A Doll’s Life among them — a fact he celebrates as essential to his success.)
And so first one and then a second team of producers failed to raise what was originally a $13-million budget. Even all-star retrospectives like Jerome Robbins’ Broadway have flopped financially on Broadway, where Prince’s name is the stuff of legend but not to the younger audiences producers are desperate to bring into the ticket-buying fold. After all, Phantom may have rung up $1 billion in sales on Broadway alone, but it opened in the neolithic era of 1987. Adding to the challenge is the fact that presenting a compendium of so many shows involves a nightmare tour of securing rights to material and approval over presentation, something Prince acknowledged in his comment announcing the Japan runs:
“The idea for Prince Of Broadway was brought me to me some years ago and, a tad reluctantly, I agreed to consider the notion of a compendium show featuring material from the 34 musicals I directed and/or produced on Broadway,” he said. “Subsequently, I asked Susan Stroman to choreograph and co-direct with me because so much of the material will require inspired movement. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want to reproduce verbatim what I staged in the original productions. Instead, I plan to re-think each segment and direct it as I would today, possibly having learned more about what I’m doing in the subsequent years. Finally, I’ve asked Jason Robert Brown, a choice composer with whom I’ve worked before (Parade) to orchestrate the show, write connective musical material, and create a brand-new number for the finale. After all, my career is just a blip on the theater screen and there will be a rich future.”
Prince Of Broadway will feature set design by Tony Award winner Beowulf Boritt, costume design by six-time Tony Award winner William Ivey Long, lighting design by Sonoyo Nishikawa and sound design by Koichi Yamamoto. Wig design is by Paul Huntley. Musical director is Fred Lassen. Casting is by Tara Rubin.