A Gala Concert for Hal Prince
- Music and lyrics by various
- Performed by the Munich Radio Orchestra
- Devised and directed by Hugh Wooldridge
- Conducted by, and musical direction by, Charles Prince
- Vocal director and vocal arrangements by Kevin Amos
- Gala concert 10/29/95 at the Philharmonie Im Gasteig, Munich.
"Tonight Quintet," "Ice Cream," "All I Ask of You" Len Cariou "Tradition," "Sunrise, Sunset," "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," "Dimitri Weismann's Welcome" Kelli James Chase "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," "Losing My Mind" Robert DuSold "Beautiful Girls," "All I Ask of You" Debbie Shapiro Gravitte "Cabaret," "Broadway Baby" David Michael Johnson "Willkommen," "Kiss of the Spider Woman" Ria Jones "Sunrise, Sunset," "Send In the Clowns" Patricia Nessy "Glitter and Be Gay" Kenneth Nichols "Ol' Man River" Dave Willetts "Tonight Quintet," "Not While I'm Around"
The back of the CD case lists "various suprise [sic] guests"; god only knows who they were.
This German-located, North American and British-sung, and British-produced concert for Hal Prince was mounted for some reason; maybe it was Prince's birthday, maybe it was a significant date in his professional history, maybe it was just to honor one of the musical theatre's most distinguished producer-directors. I can't say for certain, as there's nothing in the booklet to even hint at the thinking behind this concert. Anyway, as is typical for such concerts, it's a showcase for songs from many of his finest and best-loved productions, including The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, West Side Story, Cabaret, Follies, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweeney Todd, Showboat, She Loves Me, Candide, A Little Night Music, Company, Pacific Overtures, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The overture contains hints of music from other of his productions.
- Overture for Hal Prince
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Comedy Tonight
- West Side Story: Tonight Quintet
- Fiddler on the Roof: Tradition
- Sunrise, Sunset
- Cabaret: Willkommen
- Candide: Overture
- Glitter and Be Gay
- Kiss of the Spider Woman: Kiss of the Spider Woman
- She Loves Me: Ice Cream
- Evita: Don't Cry for Me Argentina
- Pacific Overtures: Advantage/March to the Treaty House/Next
- Sweeney Todd: The Ballad of Sweeney Todd
- Follies: Dimitri Weismann's Welcome [spoken]
- Beautiful Girls
- A Little Night Music: The Night Waltz
- Follies: Losing My Mind
- Sweeney Todd: Not While I'm Around
- A Little Night Music: Send in the Clowns
- Follies: Broadway Baby
- The Phantom of the Opera: Overture
- All I Ask of You
- The Music of the Night
- Show Boat: Ol' Man River
- Company: "Side by Side by Prince"
I've heard my share of these gala-type performances, and this one is pleasant but surprisingly undistinguished; it's competently performed but lacks the kind of spark found in Hey, Mr. Producer! and other more high-quality evenings. Part of the problem is the unimaginative orchestrations, which, you will note, are not specifically credited to anyone. In general, the orchestra doesn't sound comfortable with the music. I know almost nothing about the German musical scene and whether they know much about American-style musicals over there, so I'll speculate that maybe the Munich Radio Orchestra just doesn't have the feel for the Broadway sound. They perform it efficiently and soullessly.
Another--big--problem is in the song selection. Go back and read the song list again. Is there anything even vaguely adventurous up there? Nope. This is the kind of song list you put together if have only a passing familiarity with the material. God--"Sunrise, Sunset"? "Send in the Clowns"? "Cabaret"? "The Music of the Night?" We've heard these songs how many times? The only overplayed standard they seem to have missed is "Being Alive." If they felt they had to emphasize Sondheim (which is understandable), couldn't they at least have chosen one or two songs that we don't hear so often in concert, like "The Miller's Son" or "The Ladies Who Lunch"? Couldn't they have included one or two songs from Prince's flops, like Grind or A Doll's Life, or, Jesus, Merrily We Roll Along? Where the HELL is anything from On the Twentieth Century? (There's one single echo of that show's music in the "Overture for Hal Prince.")
While the concert was recorded live, there's no concert chatter captured, no introductions of Prince or any of the performers or shows until the very end, when they do the "Side by Side by Prince" thing. The audience seems unusually subdued; maybe that's a quality of German audiences, or maybe they simply didn't understand the jokes in the songs, since everything was sung in English. Probably the latter. (Which also begs the question, why did this evening take place in Germany? Is Hal Prince outrageously beloved there? Did everyone just want a trip to Munich? Was the Munich Radio Orchestra the only one available on short notice? One can speculate endlessly.)
As you might expect from a production this clueless, there's a picture of the "Beautiful Girls" number, with a line of young, pretty German women who must have come walking downstage during the song to line up along the edge of the stage. Of course, that runs completely counter to the point of the song. This isn't "Hundreds of Girls," after all.
With a few exceptions, the performers are B-list or below, and it shows. Cariou and Shapiro Gravitte are easily the class of the evening, though poor Cariou is somewhat miscast in the Tevye role. He's a quiet and subtle performer, and the two Fiddler songs, especially "Tradition," require a more outsized performance. And he hardly gets to show any Sweeney Todd chops--remember, he comes in at the end of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd." (The Sondheim Tonight concert would do exactly the same thing to him a few years later.) I have yet to hear a really good concert performance by Cariou because either he gets practically nothing to sing, or they give him material that doesn't show him off well. (I saw him live as Cap'n Andy in Showboat a few years ago, and he was fantastic, so it isn't him. And yes, I know it isn't a "quiet and subtle" role. Indeed, he was booming his songs in that show--he projected much better than almost anyone in the cast, except the incomparable Michel Bell, but that's another review for later. Anyway, typically he's quiet and subtle.) Meanwhile, Willetts's "Not While I'm Around" is dreadful; he's so far off the melody he might as well be singing another song.
How the hell can you create a booklet for this kind of gala and NOT INCLUDE ANY INFORMATION ON THE GUY BEING FETED? Geez! Typical goddamn useless British musical booklet. Anyway, it does contain a song list with singers (repeated on the back of the CD case); some pictures (uncaptioned); bios for all the singers, the director, etc.; a list of the company (repeated on the front of the booklet); a list of "The Beautiful Girls" (big waste of space there); a list of the production team; and a production list for Bayerischer Rundfunk (Radio), which recorded the evening. But without an overview of Prince and his accomplishments, precisely what is the point of offering this CD to the public? (There's also no indication that Charles Prince is Hal Prince's son.)
Although I liked the idea of a gala evening dedicated to Hal Prince, the execution of it, while probably enjoyable enough if you had actually been there, didn't make for the most stimulating listening on CD. There are no standout performances--certainly nothing to rival legendary live performances captured elsewhere--and no particularly interesting songs here. The orchestrations are low-energy. Even the audience noise is disappointing. (Even the orchestra is not beautiful. ;^) For completists, for Broadway newbies who would like a decent live overview of very frequently performed songs, and for fans of one or more of the performers here.
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