'Prince of Broadway': A Crash Course in Hal Prince's Hit Musicals
Apart from having won the Tony Award for best choreography, the dances in Damn Yankees, West Side Story and the 1994 revival of Show Boat have little in common.
Not the choreographers—Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Susan Stroman—or the composers—Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, Leonard Bernstein, and Jerome Kern. Not the dancers, either—the standouts were Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Dorothy Stanley.
The name that repeats in all three Playbills belongs to Harold Prince—a producer of the first two and director of the third.
Since 1950, when he got his first paying theater job as assistant stage manager for the satirical revue Tickets, Please!, Prince, 89, has worked on more than 50 Broadway productions and amassed an astonishing 21 Tony Awards.
His latest show is a retrospective of that 67-year career, punningly titled Prince of Broadway and opening this month at the Friedman Theatre. There are numbers from the three hits above, as well as Cabaret, Company, Fiddler on the Roof, The Phantom of the Opera and Sweeney Todd—and, if the lineup remains intact through rehearsals, nine more.
Prince of Broadway musical poster, courtesy Broadway.com
Of the 17 shows represented, six are composed by Stephen Sondheim, two are the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and two more come from the oeuvre of John Kander and Fred Ebb.
"It really opens your eyes to what Hal Prince has contributed to the American theater," says five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman, his co-director and choreographer. "All of Hal's shows have been groundbreaking."
Stroman knows about groundbreaking, having created the dance musical Contact, and directed and choreographed the megahit comedy The Producers and the searingly serious Scottsboro Boys. But Prince's resumé is unmatched—"If we did something from every Hal show," Stroman says, "we'd be there for five hours. We had to pick and choose."
And the choices lean toward the historically significant and dramatic, forgoing big dance numbers in favor of the characters Prince has put on the stage.
"You have Tony and Maria, Eva Perón and Che, Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett," Stroman begins. "You have Christine and the Phantom; you have Desiree; you have Tevya; you have Sally Bowles and Fraulein Schneider; you have Magnolia, Queenie and Joe."
The nine performers, who include Karen Ziemba, Tony Yazbeck and Janet Dacal, "get to play all these iconic roles and do all these wonderful 11-o'clock numbers," Stroman says.
Susan Stroman by Paul Kolnik, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown
"There's not a lot of what you would think of as choreography," she notes. "It's mostly musical staging. That can be difficult, because it has to be absolutely believable that this character would be doing a grapevine when they're moving stage left."
But Prince of Broadway does let her revisit the period-flavored dance she designed for Show Boat's "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and to choreograph "a beautiful waltz" when the show segues to A Little Night Music. And in the Follies segment, she's turned "The Right Girl," Buddy's bitter lament about his failing marriage, into "a huge tap number" for Yazbeck.
"Tony's a wonderful tapper," she says, "and he'll get to show his chops in this." And she'll get to exercise her choreographic chops, interpreting the complex emotions in Sondheim's song. Lyrics, she says, are key to Prince's directorial vision: "Hal stages numbers as if they are scenes. All his blocking and his acting direction stem from not only the book of the musical, but the lyric of the song."
It's a lesson she says she learned watching him work—their relationship dates back to 1987, when he admired her choreography for an off-Broadway revival of his 1965 musical Flora, the Red Menace and hired her for Don Giovanni at the New York City Opera.
"We get along," she says. "He makes me smile and he makes me laugh while I'm learning from him."
Hal Prince, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."
January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there'd be no belting Reno Sweeney, no "Fame"-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.