NEW YORK — Sometimes a prince comes up a pauper. In this case, it’s the universally admired Harold Prince whose creative riches are misspent in “Prince of Broadway,” an inspirationally impoverished new revue based on a theatrical career of virtually nonpareil success.
Prince’s credits as a Broadway producer and director are so voluminous and distinguished that one or two items on his résumé would be sufficient for lifetime achievement recognition on anyone else’s. Feast your eyes on this remarkable pedigree: As a producer, his work stretches back to “The Pajama Game” in 1954 and includes the original productions of “Damn Yankees,” “Fiorello!,” “West Side Story,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Wait! There’s more! Broadway musicals that premiered with Prince as director include “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music,” “Follies,” “She Loves Me,” “Company,” “Cabaret” and “Evita.” Need I go on? Well, he both produced and directed some of these, and a whole bunch of others that don’t qualify for this pantheon of critical or commercial hits. In any event, there’s been a whole lot of achieving going on in the 89 years this giant has roamed the earth.
And yet “Prince of Broadway,” directed by the maestro himself, can’t be added to his remarkable win column. An anthology show that had its official opening Thursday night at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, the production trots out in almost, but not quite chronological order, numbers from 17 of his famous musicals. It is an unsteady walk down a variety of memory lanes — few of them, on this occasion, all that memorable.
Emily Skinner, one of the nine performers showcased here, has the evening’s best moment, in a steel-coated rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s “Company.” And Karen Ziemba gives a powerfully bitter edge to “So What?” — an introductory song for Fraulein Schneider in John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Cabaret.”
Other than these, though, the sequences range from not bad (“Waiting for the Girls Upstairs,” from Sondheim and James Goldman’s “Follies” with Skinner, Ziemba, Chuck Cooper and Tony Yazbeck) to tediously overwrought (a version of “The Right Girl” from “Follies” featuring an over-caffeinated Yazbeck) to downright cheesy (a deadly medley from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Charles Hart’s “Phantom,” featuring Michael Xavier and Kaley Ann Voorhees).
The Manhattan Theatre Club production, for which Susan Stroman is listed as choreographer and co-director, feels as if it were slapped together for the entertainment portion of a benefit dinner. The task of reciting the wooden commentary between songs is shared by the entire cast, each of whom reminisces as if he or she were Prince, with each sporting the eyeglasses eternally perched on the director’s forehead. It’s an affectionate touch, but like so much that transpires on this lackluster occasion, only minorly evocative of the great man himself.
Prince of Broadway, book by David Thompson. Directed by Harold Prince. Choreography and co-direction, Susan Stroman. New songs and orchestrations, Jason Robert Brown. Set and projections, Beowulf Boritt; costumes, William Ivey Long; lighting, Howell Binkley; sound, Jon Weston; production stage manager, Gregory T. Livoti. With Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Brandon Uranowitz. About 2½ hours. $89-$165. At Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., New York. Visit telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200.