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'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
The revival of everything '90s has been in full-swing for a while now—we saw Destiny's Child reunite at Coachella, Britney Spears is headed back on tour, and the Spice Girls miiight be performing at the Royal wedding next month. But Hollywood saved the best '90s moment for last, bringing *NSYNC back together to receive their official star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 30.
Because we love a good dance #TBT, we're reliving five of the boys' best dance moments.
"I Want You Back"
The band's first single from their self-titled debut album in 1998, "I Want You Back," was the start of their takeover (and their choreographed dance moves).
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Gina Gibney runs two enormous dance spaces in New York City: Together they contain 23 studios, five performance spaces, a gallery, a conference room, a media lab and more. Gibney is now probably the largest dance center in the country. It's not surprising that Dance Magazine named Gina Gibney one of the most influential people in dance today.
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?