Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Hal Prince is a true musical theatre legend. Involved in some of the biggest shows of the second half of the twentieth century, Prince’s credits as a producer and director encompass a wide variety of classic musicals from The Pajama Game in 1955 to 1998’s Parade. Not one to shy away from self-congratulation, Prince has rounded off his career (so far, although he is now 90 years old) with this concert of songs from his previous productions that premiered in Japan in 2015 and made it to Broadway in August of 2017. This is the cast recording of the latter.
The CD starts very well with an upbeat overture that is a mash-up of songs from the shows Prince has been involved in. It plays as a veritable ‘name that tune’ for musical theatre fans and ramps up excitement for what is to follow. Unfortunately, what does follow isn’t nearly as exciting, nor is it particularly ground-breaking. As a show, it is no doubt wonderful to watch a concert of fully staged numbers from some of Broadway’s best-known shows, but as a soundtrack, it just comes across as a mixtape. Although the songs are all performed very well, as the cast is made up of relative unknowns, this CD has more than a whiff of the type of ‘best of Broadway’ CDs that you might find in a bargain bin at your local garage.
The songs are presented in almost chronological order, although a little swapping around has been done presumably to ensure that some of the more recognisable tunes are kept until near the end. The earlier numbers are less recognisable and consequently all the better for it: Heart from Damn Yankees gives the men a chance for a rousing chorus number, Will He Like Me? and Tonight at Eight are reminders of what an underrated show She LovesMe is, and the extremely catchy You’ve Got Possibilitiessuggests that the obscure It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’sSuperman is worth further investigation. Less successful are the familiar songs: If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina from Evita and a couple of the big numbers from Phantom of the Opera all pale in comparison to their famous previous recordings.
Prince’s long-term collaboration with Stephen Sondheim is well covered but again, the renditions featured live in the shadow of the originals. Ladies Who Lunch from Company and The Worst Pies in London from Sweeney Todd are particularly disappointing, and although Being Alive(also from Company) is a strong entry, the inclusion of the entire integrated libretto bogs it down.
Prince is a true legend and his legacy speaks for its self. This CD, unfortunately, isn’t really a worthy epitaph to his long and distinguished career and one is left thinking that an easier and cheaper option may have been just to issue a compilation album of the original recordings. For a newcomer, this soundtrack is a great sampler to use as an introduction to Broadway musicals, but for more seasoned musical fans it’s sadly lacking.