Harold PrinceHarold Smith Prince (born Harold Smith; January 30, 1928 – July 31, 2019), commonly known as Hal Prince, was an American theatrical producer and director associated with many of the best-known Broadway musical productions of the 20th century.
Over the span of his career, he garnered 21 Tony Awards, more than any other individual, including eight for directing, eight for producing the year's Best Musical, two as Best Producer of a Musical, and three special awards.
Early lifePrince was born to an affluent family in Manhattan, the son of Blanche (Stern) and Harold Smith. He was adopted by his stepfather, Milton A. Prince, a stockbroker. His family was of German Jewish descent. Following his graduation from the Dwight School in New York, he entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he followed a liberal arts curriculum and graduated in three years at age 19. He later served two years with the United States Army in post-World War II Germany.
CareerPrince began work in the theatre as an assistant stage manager to theatrical producer and director George Abbott. Along with Abbott, he co-produced The Pajama Game, which won the 1955 Tony Award for Best Musical. He went on to direct his own productions in 1962 beginning with A Family Affair and had a series of unsuccessful productions.
He almost gave up musical theater before his success with Kander and Ebb's Cabaret in 1966. 1970 marked the start of his greatest collaboration, with composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. They had previously worked on West Side Story and at this point decided to embark on their own project. Their association spawned a long string of productions, including Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), Pacific Overtures (1976), and Sweeney Todd (1979). Following Merrily We Roll Along (1981), which was not successful, running for 16 performances, they parted ways until Bounce in 2003.
Prince directed operas including Josef Tal's Ashmedai, Carlisle Floyd's Willie Stark, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, and a revival of Bernstein's Candide. In 1983 Prince staged Turandot for the Vienna State Opera (conductor: Lorin Maazel; with José Carreras and Éva Marton).
He directed two of Andrew Lloyd Webber's successes, Evita (1979) and The Phantom of the Opera (1986). He was offered the job of directing Cats by Lloyd Webber but turned it down.
Despite creating a number of hugely popular musicals in the late 1970s and early 1980s such as Sweeney Todd and Evita, Prince had his first critical failure with Sondheim in 1981 with Merrily We Roll Along. Determined to bounce back, he started working on a new musical A Doll's Life with lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green that would continue the story of Nora Helmer past what Henrik Ibsen had written in A Doll's House. It was badly received and ran for five performances; The New York Times reviewer wrote "It was overproduced and overpopulated to the extent that the tiny resolute figure of Nora became lost in the combined mechanics of Broadway and the Industrial Revolution."
Prince's other commercially unsuccessful musicals included Grind (1985), which closed after 71 performances, and Roza (1987). However, his production of The Phantom of the Opera, debuting on Broadway in 1988, eventually became the longest-running show in Broadway history. Prince ultimately stopped producing because he "became more interested in directing".
Prince was the inspiration for John Lithgow's character in Bob Fosse's film All That Jazz. He was also assumed to be the basis of a character in Richard Bissell's novel Say, Darling, which chronicled Bissell's own experience turning his novel 7½ Cents into The Pajama Game.
In 2000, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 2006, Prince was awarded a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. On May 20, 2007, he gave the commencement address at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In 2008 Prince was the keynote speaker at Elon University's Convocation for Honors celebration.
Prince co-directed, with Susan Stroman, the 2010 musical Paradise Found. The musical features the music of Johann Strauss II as adapted by Jonathan Tunick with lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh. The book was written by Richard Nelson, based on Joseph Roth's novel The Tale of the 1002nd Night. The musical premiered at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London on May 19, 2010 and closed on June 26, and starred Mandy Patinkin.
A retrospective of his work, titled Prince of Broadway, presented by Umeda Arts Theater, premiered in Tokyo, Japan in October 2015. The book was written by David Thompson with additional material and orchestrations by Jason Robert Brown. The revue was co-directed by Susan Stroman and Prince. The revue opened on Broadway in August 2017 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Directed by Prince and Stroman (also choreographer), the cast featured Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier, Tony Yazbeck, and Karen Ziemba.
LegacyAccording to Masterworks Broadway, "besides his achievements as a producer and director, Prince is also known for bringing innovation to the theatrical arts. In collaboration with Stephen Sondheim, he was a pioneer in the development of the 'concept musical,' taking its departure from an idea or theme rather than from a traditional story. Their first project of this kind, Company (1970), was a solid success and paved the way for other innovative musicals."
The Harold Prince Theatre at the Annenberg Center of the University of Pennsylvania is named in his honor.
A documentary titled Harold Prince: The Director’s Life was directed by Lonny Price and broadcast on PBS Great Performances in November 2018.
Andrew Lloyd Webber said: "There isn’t anybody working on musical theater on either side of the Atlantic who doesn’t owe an enormous debt to this extraordinary man....Hal was very minimalist with his sets. People think of Phantom as this great big spectacle. That’s an illusion. Hal always looked at the show as this big black box in which the stage craft enabled you to believe there was this impressive scenery all around you."
Jason Robert Brown said: "More than anything else, when I think about Hal, I think about his belief in theater. He believed in what it could do....He thought a lot about the world and the political systems and emotional support systems in it. He was very much a political artist."
Personal lifePrince married Judy Chaplin, daughter of composer and musical director Saul Chaplin, on October 26, 1962. They are parents of Daisy Prince, a director, and Charles Prince, a conductor. Actor Alexander Chaplin, best known as "James Hobert" on Spin City, is Prince's son-in-law. At the time of his death, Prince lived in Manhattan and Switzerland.
The marquee lights of Broadway theatres were dimmed on July 31, 2019, in the traditional gesture of honor.