Theater legend Harold Prince goes "off-country" to develop new show

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NEW YORK — A musical celebrating the most decorated Tony Award-winner in history is currently not playing on Broadway. Or off-Broadway. Or, for that matter, off-off-Broadway. It's not even in New York.

"Prince of Broadway," which takes audiences quickly through the numerous award-winning productions created by director-producer Harold Prince, is enjoying a sold-out reception in Japan, and he hopes it will soon grace a Broadway stage.

"I want it here," said the 87-year-old icon during an interview in his Rockefeller Plaza office. "I love what I do. I love experimenting. This is an experiment. This works. Thank, god."

The show features a 10-person cast that performs snippets from many of the shows that have earned Prince a record 21 Tonys, including "Cabaret," "Evita," "Phantom of the Opera," "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "Sweeney Todd."

A stunning cast of Broadway veterans is currently in Japan, including Shuler Hensley, Ramin Karimloo, Nancy Opel, Emily Skinner and Tony Yazbeck. It is moving from Tokyo, where it just closed, to Osaka, where it runs from Saturday through Dec. 10.

It's directed by Prince, co-directed and choreographed by five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman, and features a book by David Thompson and new music by Jason Robert Brown.

Prince said he took four years to make the show work, teasing out 38 numbers from his catalog of 34 musicals. Each show gets a few minutes to shine with a few songs and some dialogue.

"I wanted to do the whole musical in 15 minutes," said Prince. "I wanted that arc. That's all I wanted. I wanted the audience to know what the whole show was— beginning, middle and end."

There's "Wilkommen" from "Cabaret." "West Side Story" is represented by "Something's Coming" and "Tonight." The section from "Follies" opens with a showgirl descending stairs that then turn to become the setting for the group number "Waiting for the Girls Upstairs," which morphs into "The Right Girl."

Condensing the musicals — Prince calls it the CliffsNotes of his shows — wasn't hard for him since while audience members are likely not to forget one of his musicals, he does.

"I forget a show the day after it opens. I'm thinking about the next show," he said. "What excites me is the time with the authors, the time with the designers, the time with the actors, the performance. Then it opens. What's next?"

Prince is known for his fluid, cinematic director's touch and being unpredictable in his choice of material. He has never relied on technology to give his shows pop, preferring canvas to LEDs.

"I believe the theater should take advantage of the limitations of scenery and totally unlimited imagination of the person who is sitting in the audience," he said. "I like what the imagination does in the theater."

"Prince of Broadway" was originally intended to hit Broadway in 2012 until financing fell apart. Investors invited it to make its debut in Japan, even though the show is in English and many of Prince's shows haven't been performed in Japan.

He didn't need to be worried: His iPhone has videos of thundering standing ovations. Prince knows it's an unusual show and hopes it can survive the trip home. "Let it be what it is because it's not like anything else," he said.

Prince isn't resting on his laurels. Next spring he'll be directing the new musical by David Yazbek at the Atlantic Theater Company based on the indie film "The Band's Visit."

"It seemed to me a good idea — if you're going to bury yourself alive with a compendium of all things you've done for 61 years — to do a new show," he said.


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