A director and producer whose long list of credits includes the musical blockbusters West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Evita, and The Phantom of the Opera, as well as groundbreaking works with lyricist/composer Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince (born 1928) is one of the towering figures in the American theater of the second half of the twentieth century.
Proving that artistic and commercial success are not always mutually exclusive, Hal Prince has frequently managed to simultaneously please critics, audiences, and investors. "He's the best around by far. He has a sense of the function of music in a show. … He takes it seriously and is more daring, imaginative and endlessly creative. He likes to take chances. He has a sense of dignity of the musical theater and thinks it's the highest form of theater and I happen to agree with him," Sondheim said of Prince in an interview with Carol Ilson, author of Harold Prince: From Pajama Game to Phantom of the Opera.
A Native New Yorker
Harold Smith Prince, known to his friends and colleagues as Hal, was born in New York City on January 30, 1928. He was the son of Milton Prince, a stockbroker, and Blanche Stern Prince. "We were privileged, upper-middle, lower-rich class, Jewish, both parents of German families which settled here soon after the Civil War," Prince wrote in his memoir Contradictions. His parents divorced when he was a small child and Prince was brought up in Manhattan by his mother and stepfather, also a stockbroker. He was taken to the theater often and saw many of the top stars and productions of the 1930s, such as Orson Welles in Julius Caesar, Tallulah Bankhead in The Little Foxes, and Burgess Meredith in Winterset.
As a teenager, Prince began attending the theater by himself. "I was weaned on the second balcony. Do you know how terrific it is to sit in the second balcony?" Prince was quoted in the New Yorker as telling a master class at the Manhattan School of Music. In 1944, after graduating from the Franklin School, a private school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Prince enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Intending to become a playwright, he took a liberal arts course heavy on literature and history and wrote, acted, and directed plays for the student group, the Penn Players.
Receiving his bachelor's degree in 1948, Prince returned to New York where he attempted to sell his plays to theatrical producers. Though he found no takers for his plays, Prince did find a job through director George Abbott, a Broadway legend whose career began in the early twentieth century. "He was a young fella out of college and I put him to work. He was a very bright fellow, and he had a great deal of talent," Abbott said of Prince to a reporter from Forbes. While working days in Abbott's office running the switchboard and delivering messages, Prince spent his nights as an assistant stage manager for the Abbott directed revue Touch and Go. He then was an assistant stage manager on the musical Tickets, Please.
In 1950, Prince was drafted into the U.S. Army and assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery battalion in West Germany. "I slept practically the whole two years, not just in bed but on my feet.… Actually it was not such a bad time. Being thwarted in 'progress' tranquilized me. I still think of those two years as real years. My life before and since hasn't been too heavy in the reality factor," Prince wrote of his military service in Contradictions.
Broadway Producer at 26
Having been promised a job with Abbott when his army duty was up, he was immediately made an assistant stage manager in 1952 on the new musical Abbott was directing, Wonderful Town, starring Rosalind Russell. Wonderful Town opened on Broadway in the spring of 1953 and was a major success.
During the run of the show, Prince and Robert Griffith, Wonderful Town's principal stage manager and Abbott's chief assistant, decided to become producing partners and chose, as their first project, a musical version of 7 « Cents, Richard Bissell's comic novel about a strike at a pajama factory. Building the show from scratch, Prince and Griffith hired the pop songwriting team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross to compose the score, asked Bissell to write a libretto from his novel, and engaged an aspiring young choreographer, Bob Fosse, to work out dance routines. They also convinced Abbott to direct. Prince and Griffith raised money for the show, renamed The Pajama Game, from one hundred sixty-one backers, including several Wonderful Town chorus members who invested small sums.
Opening on Broadway with little fanfare in May 1954, at the end of the theatrical season, The Pajama Game, garnered rave reviews. "The Pajama Game wound up the season with as exuberant high spirits as New Year's Eve winds up the year. … There are the kind of peppy dance numbers that suggest a cheerleaders carnival, and there is a great deal of music with an infectious, elementary lilt," wrote a reviewer for Time. The Pajama Game won a Tony Award for best musical and ran for 1,063 performances.
Prince and Griffith re-teamed with Adler, Ross, Fosse, and Abbott on Damn Yankees, a musical about a middle aged baseball fan's magical transformation into a young slugger for his favorite team, the perennially losing Washington Senators. Opening in May 1955, Damn Yankeesrepeated the success of The Pajama Game. It ran for 1,019 performances and also won the Tony Award for best musical. "I had this absolutely charmed first couple of years. I really thought all you do is have hits; it never occurred to me that it could ever be another way," Prince said of his early producing career to Jeremy Gerard of the New York Times in 1987.
Although Prince and Griffith's production of New Girl in Town, a musical version of Eugene O'Neill's play Anna Christie starring Gwen Verdon, was only a minor success. In the spring of 1957, they were back on the hit-making track with West Side Story, a musical retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet set in a New York City slum, and Fiorello!, a musical based on the early life of Fiorello LaGuardia, New York City's mayor in the 1930s and 1940s.
Opening in September 1957, and featuring music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the now-classic West Side Story received mixed reviews at its premiere. Some critics celebrated its innovative blending of music and dance with a serious, contemporary storyline, while others were put off by its dark and gritty attitude. Coming to Broadway in November 1959, Fiorello!-with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, received almost unanimous praise by critics and won the Tony Award for best musical. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama-an honor rarely bestowed upon a musical.
Prince and Griffith's style differed from that of many other producers in that they concentrated on one show at a time and personally involved themselves in all aspects of a production. "We're too involved with every detail to produce on an assembly line. We've noticed that other producers have people called 'production assistants,' but we can't comprehend what the job is. It doesn't exist here. We're our own 'production assistants,"' Prince told John S. Wilson of Theatre Arts in 1960.
Became a Director
Prince's deep involvement with the creative side of his productions increased his interest in becoming a director. His move to direction was complicated by his older and more experienced partner, Griffith also having directorial aspirations. "Bobby had always wanted to direct himself and he'd never done it. So I couldn't either," Prince told Forbes. Prince's dilemma came to a sad resolution in 1961 when Griffith died suddenly of a heart attack. Almost immediately, Prince began accepting directing offers. With the exception of She Loves Me, a minor success in 1963, Prince's initial efforts at directing a Broadway musical were both critical and commercial failures.
Prince continued to produce shows directed by others, and his magic touch as a producer remained in evidence. Prince's production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sondheim's musical take on Roman farce, opened in May 1962. Fiddler on the Roof, opened in September 1964, and told the story of Jewish villagers in turn of the century Russia, with music and lyrics by Fiorello's Bock and Harnick. Both were triumphs. Fiddler, which went on to a record-breaking run of 3,242 performances, was originally seen by many as too ethnic to please most audiences. Even Prince considered its potential limited. "There are at least three million Jews in New York, and I thought that should be enough to keep the show running for a couple of seasons. But I never foresaw that Fiddler would run the way it did," Prince told Forbes.
It was Cabaret, a tale of Berlin on the eve of the Nazi takeover of Germany with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, that established Prince as an important director. "Instead of telling a little story about the decadence of Berlin just before Hitler came to power into which casual musical numbers can be sandwiched whenever politeness permits, Cabaret lunges forward to insist on music as mediator between audience and characters.… We are inside music looking out, tapping our feet to establish a cocky rhythm and a satanically grinning style to which the transient people of the narrative must accommodate themselves," wrote Walter Kerr of the New York Times.
Prince also produced the show which opened in November 1966 and ran for 1,165 performances. Cabaret won the Tony Award for best musical and earned Prince his first best director award. His version of Cabaret was an ensemble piece and differed greatly from choreographer-turned-director Bob Fosse's 1972 film version of Cabaret, which was designed to show off the talents of its star, Liza Minnelli. Prince abhorred "star vehicles" and throughout his career has generally avoided working with big name performers. "Broadway doesn't need stars. They have a way of influencing material," Prince said to Hubert Saal of Newsweek.
Prince considered George Abbott, who died in 1995 at the age of 107, the primary influence on his directorial style and he emulated Abbott's cool, businesslike approach towards actors and other personnel. "George Abbott has no tolerance for histrionics or emotional bloodletting and neither have I. I demand punctuality and absolute quiet or I get growly. But that's as far as I go," Prince told Louis Botto of Look.
In other areas, Prince sees his directorial style as different from Abbott's, especially in regard to what constitutes a worthwhile evening at the theater. "I have a darker sensibility.… I'm political, he's not. I'm issue-oriented, he's not.He really unabashedly wants people to have a good time, and sometimes I don't give a damn," Prince explained in an A & E Biography cable television documentary quoted by Ilson.
Frequent Collaborations with Sondheim
Some of Prince's most influential work as a director has come in his collaborations with Stephen Sondheim. Beginning in 1970 with Company, a look at contemporary marriage seen through the eyes of a commitment-wary bachelor, Prince and Sondheim brought the musical to higher levels of subtlety and sophistication. Dubbed "concept musicals" by critics, Prince and Sondheim's shows were built around themes and ideas rather than a narrative plot, and were the biggest innovation in the musical theater since the early 1940s when Rodgers and Hammerstein pioneered the "book musical," which integrated music and dance with a relatively complicated storyline.
Among the grandest of Prince and Sondheim's collaborations is Follies, in which a reunion of former chorus girls serves as a device to examine the aging process and the vagaries brought about by the passage of time. In his review of Follies, Jack Kroll of Newsweek wrote-"How many theater people in this country have the talent, taste, inventiveness, resourcefulness and high professional standards of Prince?… . With Cabaret, Company, and Follies, Harold Prince has created a generation of musicals which capture much of our time in a form that, in his hands, refuses to die."
Opening in April 1971, Follies was a financial disaster that, despite a respectable run of 522 performances and a best director Tony Award for Prince, never came close to recouping its fabulous production costs. Though Prince is noted for his cost-consciousness as both a director and producer, he is not opposed to spending large sums when such spending seems called for artistically. "Everything can't be modest in size-some things just cry out to be musicals. Big musicals. And why shouldn't they be?" Prince told Gerard.
Prince's other collaborations with Sondheim produced A Little Night Music in 1973, a wistful look at romantic relationships that was their most commercially successful joint venture and Pacific Overtures in 1976, an exquisitely mounted production about Western contact with Japan in the nineteenth century. In 1979, Sweeney Todd, a bleak, melodramatic tale of the murdering "demon barber of Fleet Street," won several Tony Awards, including best musical.
Apart from Sondheim, Prince had other major successes during this period with On the Twentieth Century in 1978, a musical version of the 1932 comedy play Twentieth Century, with music by Cy Coleman, and lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, and Evita in 1979 (also in London in 1978), about the life of Eva Peron, the charismatic wife of Argentinian dictator, Juan Peron. Evita featured music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. Prince won yet another Tony Award for his direction of Evita.
Brought the Phantom to Broadway
The critical and commercial failure of Merrily We Roll Along in 1981 caused Prince and Sondheim to go their separate ways. Though they have remained friends, they have not worked together since. After his break with Sondheim, Prince's career faltered with the expensive and well publicized flops A Doll's Life in 1982, and Grind in 1985. On the subject of failure, Prince told Sylviane Gold of the New York Times—"Does it matter? Yeah, it matters some. Then you move on. A certain amount of denial is very important to a life in the theater. And you can't play God. You can't always make things work out the way you want them to."
In the 1970s, Prince, who had never really enjoyed producing, generally limited his producing activities to shows he was also directing. In the 1980s, he eased out of producing entirely. Prince had always relied primarily on the backing of many small investors or "angels" genuinely interested in the theater. This method became obsolete as his group of long time backers began to pass away and Broadway finances became dominated by big spending corporate investors looking for large profits.
Prince's fortunes turned upward when reteamed with composer Lloyd Webber to direct The Phantom of the Opera, an extraordinarily popular musical version of a 1911 novel about a disfigured man who haunts a Paris opera house and makes a star out of the young singer he adores. Prince directed both the London production which opened in October 1986, and the New York production, which opened in January 1988. "Phantom powerfully delivers … a brilliantly manipulated journey," wrote William A. Henry III of Time. Many critics credited Prince with giving the melodramatic Phantom an intelligent edge and a genuinely romantic sensibility. "I wanted the show to have some depth. I wasn't looking to do Dracula with music," Prince explained to Patricia Morrisroe of New York. The Phantom of the Opera earned Prince another Tony Award for best director.
Prince scored yet another success when he joined forces with Cabaret's Kander and Ebb on Kiss of the Spider Woman, a musical version of Manuel Puig's novel about the bond that forms between two men when they are thrown together in a prison cell. Spider Woman was initially developed by Prince and his collaborators in a 1990 production at the State University of New York at Purchase. It enjoyed a long run in Toronto before coming to Broadway under the aegis of Canadian impresario, Garth Drabinsky in 1993. "I love Broadway. I owe by life to Broadway. But there's no question that, because of the high costs, there are all sorts of pressures now-and there have been for at least the last ten years-that encumber the spirit with which you do your work … in the future there are going to be shows that have played all over the world and have never played on Broadway. That has rarely happened yet, but it's going to happen at lot," Prince told Mervyn Rothstein of the New York Times in 1990.
In 1993, Prince directed a Drabinsky-produced revival of the classic 1927 musical Show Boat. The highly praised production, which originated in Toronto, opened in New York in 1994. Undaunted by a troubled experience directing Whistle Down the Wind, an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical which had its New York premiere canceled after poor reviews in Washington in early 1997, Prince immediately turned his attention to a revival of Leonard Bernstein's Candide that reached Broadway in the spring of 1997. "I never stop working," Prince told Gerard.
In 1998, Prince was back on Broadway yet again, this time with Parade, a work by young composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown about the 1915 Georgia lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish man whose death sentence for rape and murder had been commuted to life imprisonment by the governor.
Prince has been married since 1962 to Judith Chaplin with whom he has a son and a daughter. Prince remains a vital force in the theater. He is more interested in looking forward to new challenges than in looking back on past triumphs. As Prince told Jerry Tallmer of Playbill—"What I've learned over the years is that the impossibly difficult ideas are the best ideas. … It's the easy, can't-miss ideas that are always a problem for me."
Hirsch, Foster. Harold Prince and the American Musical Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Ilson, Carol. Harold Prince: From Pajama Game to Phantom of the Opera. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1989.
Prince, Harold. Contradictions: Notes on Twenty-Six Years in the Theatre. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1974.
Forbes, February 1, 1972, pp. 20-25; January 18, 1982, pp. 55-56.
Harper's, August 1983, pp. 69-74.
Look, May 18, 1971, pp. 34-38.
New York, January 18, 1988, p. 32.
New Yorker, July 17, 1995, pp. 23-24.
New York Times, December 4, 1966, sect. 2, p. 5; October 1, 1987, p. C21; April 26, 1990, p. C17; February 12, 1995, sect. 2, p. 8; March 23, 1997, sect. 2, p.5
Newsweek, December 2, 1968, pp. 105-106; April 12, 1971, p. 121; July 26, 1971, pp. 68-70
Playbill, November 30, 1998, pp. 10-12.
Theatre Arts, October 1960, pp. 20-21, 73-74.
Time, May 24, 1954, p. 66; March 5, 1973, p. 78; February 8, 1988, p. 83.
Washington Post, December 4, 1994, p. G6. □
"Hal Prince." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 13, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hal-prince
"Hal Prince." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved January 13, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hal-prince
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Hal Prince (Harold Smith Prince), 1928–, American theatrical producer and director, b. New York City. After working as an assistant stage manager, Prince became at 26 the coproducer of Pajama Game, a major Broadway musical of 1954. He followed this with many more successful productions, including Damn Yankees (1955), West Side Story (1957), Fiorello! (1961), and Fiddler on the Roof (1964). Among the shows that he has both produced and directed in collaboration with Stephen Sondheim are Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), and Sweeney Todd (1979). He also directed Phantom of the Opera (1986) and Parade (1998).
See his autobiography, Contradictions (1974).
"Prince, Hal." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 13, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/prince-hal
"Prince, Hal." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved January 13, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/prince-hal
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Born Harold Smith Prince, January 30, 1928, in New York, NY; son of Milton A. (a stockbroker) and Blanche (Stern) Prince; married Judith Chaplin, October 26, 1962; children: Charles, Daisy. Education: University of Pennsylvania, A.B., 1948; studied under director George Abbott.
Office—10 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020.
Director and producer. Stage manager with Robert E. Griffith, then George Abbott. Co-founder, Harold Prince Musical Theatre Program, New York Directors Company, 1992. President, League of New York Theaters, 1964-65; in 1983 became president of the National Institute for Music Theatre. Military service: Served in U.S. Army, Stuttgart, West Germany, 1950-52.
Producer, in New York, NY unless otherwise noted: (with Frederick Brisson and Robert E. Griffith) The Pajama Game, 1954; (with Brisson and Griffith) Damn Yankees, 1955; (with Brisson and Griffith) New Girl in Town, 1957; (with Griffith) West Side Story, 1957, then London, England, 1958; (with Griffith) A Swim in the Sea, Philadelphia, PA, 1958; (with Griffith and H.M. Tennent) Two for the Seesaw, London, 1958; (with Griffith) Fiorello!, 1959; (with Griffith) Tenderloin, 1960; (with Griffith) A Call on Kuprin, 1961; Take Her, She's Mine, 1961; (and director) They Might Be Giants, London, 1961; (and director) A Family Affair, 1962; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, 1962, then London, 1963; (with Sidney Gordon and Howard Erskine; and director) She Didn't Say Yes, Coonamessett, MA, 1963; (with Lawrence N. Kasha and Phillip C. McKenna; and director) She Loves Me, 1963, then London, 1964; (with Michael Codron and Pledon Ltd.) Poor Bitos, 1964; Fiddler on the Roof, 1964, (with Richard Pilbrow) London, 1967; (and director) Baker Street, 1965; Flora, the Red Menace, 1965; (with Ruth Mitchell; and director) It's a Bird. It's a Plane. It's Superman!, 1966; (with Mitchell; and director) Cabaret, 1966, then (with Pilbrow) London, 1968; (with Pilbrow) The Beggar's Opera, London, 1968; (with Mitchell; and director) Zorba, 1968; (with Mitchell; and director) Company, 1970, then (with Pilbrow) London, 1972; (with Mitchell, and director with Michael Bennett) Follies, Winter Garden Theatre, 1971; Don Juan, 1972; (and director) The Great God Brown, 1972; Chemin de fer, 1973; Holiday, 1973; (and director) The Visit, 1973; (and director) Candide (opera), Brooklyn, NY, 1973, then (with Mitchell) Broadway, 1974; (with Mitchell; and director) A Little Night Music, New Haven, CT, then Broadway, 1973, later (with Pilbrow) London, 1975; The Rules of the Game, 1974; (and director) Love for Love, 1974; The Member of the Wedding, 1975; Knuckle, 1975; (with Mitchell; and director) Pacific Overtures, 1976; (with Mitchell) Side by Side by Sondheim, 1977; (with Lew Grade, Martin Starger, and Robert Fryer; and director) Merrily We Roll Along, 1981; (with others; and director) Grind, 1985; Company, 1995; Candide (opera), Chicago, 1995; and The Petrified Prince, 1995; and 3hree (one-act musicals), Philadelphia, PA, 2000. Producer of touring productions, including Fiddler on the Roof, U.S. cities, 1966-69; (with Mitchell; and director) Cabaret, U.S. cities, 1967-69; (with Mitchell; and director) Zorba, U.S. cities, 1968-70; (with Mitchell; and director) Company, U.S. cities, 1971-72; (with Mitchell; and director, with Bennett) Follies, U.S. cities, 1971-72; (with Mitchell; and director) A Little Night Music, U.S. cities, 1974-75; (with Mitchell) Side by Side by Sondheim, U.S. cities, 1977-78.
Director of stage productions, including: Ashmedai (opera), 1976; Some of My Best Friends, 1977; On the Twentieth Century, 1978; The Girl of the Golden West (opera), Chicago, IL, 1978, then San Francisco, CA, 1979; Evita, London, 1978, then Broadway, 1979; Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 1979, then London, 1980; Silverlake (opera), 1980; La fanciulla del West (opera), Chicago, 1980; Willie Stark (opera), Houston, TX, 1981; Candide (opera), 1982; A Doll's Life, 1982; Turandot (opera), Vienna, Austria, 1983; Girl of the Golden West (opera), Milan, Italy, 1983; Play Memory, 1984; End of the World, 1984; Diamonds, 1984; Roza, Los Angeles, 1986, then New York, NY, 1987; The Phantom of the Opera, London, 1986, then Broadway, 1988; Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (opera), 1987; Cabaret, 1987; Madama Butterfly (opera), Chicago, 1988; Don Giovanni (opera), 1989; Faust (opera), 1989; Kiss of the Spider Woman, Toronto, Ontario, then London, England 1992, then Broadway, 1993; Grandchild of Kings, 1992; Show Boat, Toronto, 1993, then New York, NY, 1994; Whistle down the Wind, 1997; Candide, 1997; Parade, 1999; Don Giovanni (opera), 2001; Faust, 2003; and Bounce, 2003. Director of touring productions of The Matchmaker, 1963; Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, U.S. and international cities, 1980-82; Evita, U.S. and international cities, 1980-83; and Cabaret, U.S. cities, 1987.
Film work includes: (associate producer) The Pajama Game, 1957; (associate producer) Damn Yankees, 1958; (director) Something for Everyone (also known as Black Flowers for the Bride and The Rook), National General, 1970; and (director) A Little Night Music, New World, 1977. Television work, as director, includes: Willie Stark (opera), PBS, 1981; Sweeney Todd (also known as Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street), Entertainment Channel, 1982; and "Candide," Live from Lincoln Center (also known as Great Performances), PBS, 1986. Stage appearances include George Abbott, a Celebration, New Haven, CT, 1976; and Give My Regards to Broadway: A Salute to 125 Years of Musical Theatre, New York, NY, 1991. Television appearances include: Gian Carlo Menotti: The Musical Magician, 1986; My Life for Zarah Leander (documentary), 1986; "Bernstein at Seventy," Great Performances, PBS, 1989; "An Evening with Alan Jay Lerner," Great Performances, PBS, 1989; The Los Angeles Music Center's Twenty-fifth Anniversary Celebration, PBS, 1990; The People's Palace: Secrets of the New York Public Library, 1992; The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 1994; A Tribute to Stephen Sondheim, Arts and Entertainment, 1995; "Some Enchanted Evening: Celebrating Oscar Hammerstein II," Great Performances, PBS, 1995; The Fiftieth Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1996; (host/presenter) The Kennedy Center Twenty-fifth Anniversary Celebration, PBS, 1996; The Music of Kander and Ebb: Razzle Dazzle, PBS, 1997; and Broadway '99: Launching the Tony Awards, PBS, 1999.
League of New York Theatres (president, 1963-65), National Institute for Music Theatre (chairperson), Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Coffee House Club.
Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Awards for best musical, 1955, for The Pajama Game, and 1956, for Damn Yankees; Tony Award nomination for best musical, 1958, for West Side Story; Pulitzer Prize for drama, Tony Award for best musical, and New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best musical production, all 1960, all for Fiorello!; Tony awards for best musical and best producer of a musical, both 1963, both for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Tony Award nominations for best musical and best director of a musical, both 1964, both for She Loves Me; Tony Award for best musical, and New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best musical production, both 1965, both for Fiddler on the Roof; Tony Awards for best musical and best director of a musical, and New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best musical production, all 1967, all for Cabaret; Shubert Foundation Award, 1969; Tony Award nominations for best musical and best director of a musical, both 1969, both for Zorba; Variety-New York Drama Critics' Poll Award for best director, New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best musical production, and Drama Desk Award for best director, all 1970, and Tony awards for best musical and best director of a musical, both 1971, all for Company; New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best musical production, 1971, Tony Award for best director of a musical, and nomination for best musical, and Drama Desk Award for best director, all 1972, all for Follies; Drama Desk Award for best director, 1972-73, for The Great God Brown and A Little Night Music; Tony Award for best musical, and nomination for best director of a musical, and New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best musical production, all 1973, all for A Little Night Music; Drama Desk Award for best director, 1973-74, for Candide and The Visit; Tony Award for best director of a musical, and special citation for best musical, New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best musical, and Village Voice Off-Broadway ("Obie") Award for distinguished direction, all 1974, all for Candide; Tony Award nominations for best musical and best director of a musical, both 1976, both for Pacific Overtures; Tony Award nomination for best musical, 1977, for Side by Side by Sondheim; Tony Award nomination for best director of a musical, 1978, for On the Twentieth Century; Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for best director of a musical, both 1979, both for Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, both 1980, both for Evita, and both 1988, both for The Phantom of the Opera; Bank of Delaware Commonwealth Award for Public Service, dramatic arts category, 1982; Tony Award nominations for best musical and best director of a musical, both 1985, both for Grind; Tony Award nomination for best director of a musical, 1993, for Kiss of the Spider Woman; London Evening Standard Award, 1994; Kennedy Center honoree, 1994; Drama Desk Award for best director of a musical, 1995, for Show Boat. Honorary D.F.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1971; honorary Litt.D., Emerson College, 1971. Prince Music Theater, American Music Theater Festival, Philadelphia, PA, named in his honor, 1999.
Contradictions: Notes on Twenty-six Years in the Theatre, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1974.
(Adaptor) Grandchild of Kings (based on autobiographies of Sean O'Casey), S. French (New York, NY), 1993.
(Adapter) Whistle down the Wind (musical), produced on Broadway, 1997.
Work in Progress
An expanded version of the one-act musical The Flight of the Lawnchair Man, by composer-lyricist Robert Lindsay Nassif and librettist Peter Ullian, for possible Broadway presentation.
Winner of twenty Antoinette Perry awards for his blockbuster musicals, director and producer Hal Prince has revolutionized American theater with his innovative productions. His list of Broadway hits strings over half a century and includes The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Candide, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Show Boat. Collaborating with composers such as Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Stephen Sondheim, Prince is "the undisputed master of the Broadway musical," according to David Richards in the New York Times. Employing filmic techniques, eschewing star-studded casts, and always focusing on musicals as a serious art form, Prince became "one of the towering figures in the American theater of the second half of the twentieth century," as a contributor for Encyclopedia of World Biography noted. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Barbara Isenberg described Prince's musical productions as "stage pictures" that "have brought the flow of cinema to the stage and made casts of dozens look like casts of thousands." Prince's long-time collaborator and friend, Sondheim, speaking with Carol Ilson for her Harold Prince: From Pajama Game to Phantom of the Opera, commented on the producer/director's talents: "He's the best around by far. He has a sense of the function of music in a show . . . . He takes it seriously and is more daring, imaginative and endlessly creative. He likes to take chances. He has a sense of dignity of the musical theater and thinks it's the highest form of theater and I happen to agree with him."
Early Love of Theater
Born in New York City on January 30, 1928, Harold Smith Prince was the son of stockbroker Milton Prince and Blanche (née Sterne) Prince. Writing in his memoir Contradictions: Notes on Twenty-six Years in the Theatre, Prince noted that "we were privileged, upper-middle, lower-rich class, Jewish." Both parents were offspring of German-Jewish immigrants to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. With the divorce of his parents, Prince was raised by his mother and his stepfather, who was also a stockbroker. Living in Manhattan, he was exposed at an early age to the theater and became a life-long fan of that artistic form. "Mine was a family addicted to theatre," he wrote in his memoir, "and still there was no effort to encourage me to work in it nor discourage me, and at no time was there any one to push me into finance." Instead, he could simply enjoy what he saw on the stage, from Orson Welles's Julius Caesar to Burgess Meredith's Winterset, and Tallulah Bankhead in The Little Foxes.
Prince would later speak of being "weaned in the second balcony," for he began attending theater on his own as a young teen. After graduation from Manhattan's Franklin School, Prince attended the University of Pennsylvania, intent on becoming a playwright. During his time at the university, he wrote plays and novels, directed plays for the Penn Players, founded and managed the school radio station, and even managed to squeeze in a degree in liberal arts, graduating in 1948. With plans of breaking into New York's theater world, he sent his plays around to producers. There were no takers, but a script sent to the fledgling ABC-TV won him a referral to the production offices of George Abbott, a Broadway legend who sometimes did television shows as well as theatrical productions. Offering to work on spec, Prince joined Abbott's team answering the switchboard and running messages during the day and acting as assistant stage manager at night for shows such as Touch and Go and Tickets, Please. Soon he was working full time for Abbott, earning twenty-five dollars a week.
From Khakis to Pajamas and Beyond
Prince's career was stalled for a couple of years just as it was starting when he was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to western Germany for two years to serve in an anti-aircraft battalion. But this time was not wasted; Prince spent many nights at a nightclub called Maxim's in Stuttgart, an experience that came in handy later while directing the ground-breaking musical Cabaret. Returning to civilian life, Prince became an assistant stage manager on Abbott's new production, Wonderful Town, starring Rosalind Russell. The show was not only a box office success; during the course of production Prince and Robert Griffith, Abbott's main assistant, decided to team up on their own production.
The two chose a novel by Richard Bissell about a strike at a pajama factory, and decided to build their musical from the ground up, getting the songwriting team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross to write the score, Bissell to prepare a libretto, and young choreographer Bob Fosse to work on dance. They also gathered a large group of investors to back them, many of whom stayed with Prince for the next several decades, allowing him to take risks with materials others did not think appropriate for musical theater. When they subsequently convinced their former boss, Abbott, to direct the work, they had the elements for success. The resulting musical, The Pajama Game, did not disappoint; it ran for over a thousand performances and won the Tony Award for best musical of 1954. Prince was on his way, and working with Griffith, he racked up an impressive series of hits over the next years.
Their next hit was Damn Yankees, the Walter Mitty tale of a middle-aged baseball fan's dream-come-true: turned into a young slugger, he bats his losing team, the Washington Senators, into victory. Opening in 1955 with the same behind-the-scenes team in place, the musical ran for 1,019 performances and walked away with the 1955 Tony for best musical. Though Prince and Griffith had less success with the Eugene O'Neill adaptation, New Girl in Town, they were back on their winning streak with the 1957 production of West Side Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. A Romeo and Juliet-style tragedy about love struggling in the midst of gang wars in the New York ghettoes, the story was not what most critics, or fans of the theater for that matter, felt would be appropriate for the musical theater. Its contemporary, gritty storyline and mix of high music and dance have made it a classic, despite mixed reviews at the time. The 1959 Fiorello!, about the early life of New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, was an unqualified success, however, again winning a Tony Award for best musical as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama, an uncommon occurrence for a musical.
Musical Theater Innovator
Prince began directing his own musicals in the 1960s, after the death of friend and co-producer Griffith. In fact, his new independence now allowed him to direct; while they worked together, both men had the secret dream of directing but if one could not do so, neither would the other. Prince's directorial debut, the 1963 She Loves Me, was not a success, however; neither were other early efforts. More successful were his productions during the 1960s, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a further collaborative effort with Sondheim. With the 1964 Fiddler on the Roof Prince had his largest success thus far, with the show running over three thousand performances. An unlikely success, the musical tells the story of Jewish villagers in prerevolutionary Russia. Initially, most critics, and even Prince himself, felt that the ethnic themes of the show would make for a limited success. They were happily proven wrong.
With Cabaret, a musical adapted from I Am a Camera, Christopher Isherwood's novel of Berlin in the 1930s, Prince finally made his name as a director as well as a producer. In part inspired by the nights Prince spent in the Stuttgart nightclub during his years of military service, Cabaret earned Prince his first Tony award for best director. Writing in the New York Times, Walter Kerr had high praise for the production: "Instead of telling a little story about the decadence of Berlin just before Hitler came to power into which casual musical numbers can be sandwiched whenever politeness permits, Cabaret lunges forward to insist on music as a mediator between audience and characters." For Kerr, Prince managed to bring the audience into the action in a new and powerful manner: "We are inside music looking out, tapping our feet to establish the cocky rhythm and a satanically grinning style to which the transient people of the narrative must accommodate themselves."
Prince's collaborations with Sondheim in the 1970s marked, for many critics, the high point of his career. Working as a director, he put together a series of musicals that transcended the usual light fare one expected from a Broadway musical, creating what critics called "concept musicals," shows built more around themes than plot. Such theme-based musicals began with the 1970 Company, about a contemporary bachelor who is skeptical of the commitment marriage demands. With this tale, Prince and Sondheim put a lens to the modern idea of marriage. Similarly, the effects of age and the passing of time are examined in Follies, in which one-time chorus girls get together again for a reunion. Romantic relationships are at the heart of the duo's 1973 collaboration, A Little Night Music, while Western approaches to nineteenth-century Japan informs Pacific Overtures. One of Prince and Sondheim's more offbeat collaborations was the 1979 production of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a melodrama which won numerous Tony awards. With the 1981 flop Merrily We Roll Along, however, the Prince-Sondheim collaboration stalled for over two decades, only to be resurrected with the 2003 production of Bounce.
During this same period, Prince also had successes with On the Twentieth Century, as well as with Andrew Lloyd Webber on Evita, a musical adaptation of the life of Eva Peron, the wife of the Argentine dictator. This latter production counted among the handful of works which, according to a contributor for the International Dictionary of Opera, ventures "across the murky region that separates [musicals] from certified operas."
From Setbacks to New Fame
From the failure of Merrily We Roll Along to the colossal success of 1986's The Phantom of the Opera, Prince experienced something new in his life: consistent setbacks. Expensive flops of this time include A Doll's Life, Grind, and Roza. Suddenly it seemed that no matter what he did he could please neither critics nor audiences. Prince was able to have some limited success in this same time, however, with his opera productions. His first such production had been Ashmedai by composer Josef Tal, for the New York City Opera in 1976. His 1979 staging of Puccini's La fanciulla del West for the Chicago Lyric Opera "was marked by careful attention to detail to create the appropriate atmosphere," according to the contributor for International Dictionary of Opera. He also worked on Kurt Weill's Der Silbersee for the New York City Opera, a Houston premier of Willie Stark by Carlisle Floyd, and Bernstein's Candide in 1982.
Further work in opera included adaptations of Puccini—Madama Butterfly for the Chicago Lyric opera, staged in two acts rather than the traditional three, and Turandot for the Vienna Stätsoper—as well as Mozart's Don Giovanni and Gounod's Faust. Writing of a 2003 revival of the Gonoud opera, Anne Midgette noted in the New York Times that Prince "evidently chose to stress . . . [the] fairy tale aspect" of the work. Many critics complained about the sets and choreography chosen for this production of Faust, with Manuela Hoelterhoff writing in the Wall Street Journal that Prince "is busy whittling away his reputation staging operas." Reviewing a 2001 production of Prince's original 1989 staging of Don Giovanni, Midgette, again writing in the New York Times, noted that "Prince's production, in general, was more a placeholder, a gilt frame for Mozart's music, than an actual drama in its own right." Overall, Prince's work in opera has not added many high points to his career; rather he "occupies a middle ground between tradition and innovation," according to the critic for International Dictionary of Opera.
Prince once again hit his stride in musical theatre with the 1986 collaborative effort with Webber, adapting a 1911 novel about a disfigured man who haunts the Paris opera. This "phantom" loves a young singer and manages finally to make her a star. The Phantom of the Opera, which opened first in London and then in New York, re-established Prince as one of the giants of musical theater, earning him another Tony award for best director.
Prince's next big success came with the stage adaptation of Manuel Puig's novel Kiss of the Spider Woman, in which he teamed up with the same musical team from Cabaret, John Kander and Fred Ebb. Though initially panned by critics when it opened in 1990 at the State University of New York at Purchase—a musical workshop Prince had started—the musical was reworked and produced by Canadian impresario Garth Drabinsky, coming to Broadway via Toronto. Another concept musical, this deals with bonds of friendship as exemplified by the relationship between a political prisoner and a homosexual window dresser in prison in Argentina's police state. Valentin, the Marxist, at first is impervious to Molina, the gay man who has been imprisoned for soliciting a minor. Ultimately, though, Molina carries the pragmatic Valentin away with his "storyteller's magic," as Stefan Kanfer noted in the New Leader. Martin Schaeffer, writing in Back Stage, called Kiss of the Spider Woman "the most ambitious, hypnotic, thought-provoking, and moving musical to hit Broadway for several seasons." For Time's William A. Henry III, what makes the musical work is that it "celebrates the liberating power of fantasy and popular culture."
By the mid-1990s Prince himself and his productions were the subject of retrospectives and revivals; that he chose to work on a revival of the 1927 classic Show Boat surprised many. His $8.5 million dollar production was a major triumph, bringing new life to Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's landmark musical about several generations of performers on a river boat. A reviewer for the Christian Science Monitor felt that "this is a Show Boat to admire and treasure, a production staged with loving care and theatrical verve." Writing in Maclean's, John Bemrose remarked that "Prince has done much more than simply repeat the original Show Boat. He has included material that the authors added to later stage productions and movie versions. He has also reinstated the moody choral number 'Mis'ry's Comin' Aroun',' which was dropped in 1927 because it was thought to be too serious."
Ever busy, Prince went from Show Boat to a 1997 revival of Bernstein's Candide, despite the critical rebuke he had suffered with the Webber musical Whistle down the Wind, which closed before its New York premier. The following year he went into production on a musical by Jason Robert Brown about a 1915 lynching in Georgia of a Jewish man convicted of rape and murder. Parade opened in 1999 to less-than-positive reviews. Writing in the New Republic, Robert Brustein felt that though the play is "full of good intentions, earnest and high-minded," it does not work as musical theater. "Like a lot of efforts to endow the American musical with middle seriousness," wrote Brustein, Parade "only proves that anything too momentous to be sung had better be spoken." For Brustein, "The musical comedy form simply does not have the weight to support a tale of prejudice and injustice." Similarly, New Leader's Kanfer felt that the "history of Southern bias and violence . . . is a stale subject today," and that Prince "moves the show with the brisk efficiency of a civics lecture."
If you enjoy the works of Hal Prince
If you enjoy the works of Hal Prince, you might want to check out the following books:
Stanley Green, Broadway Musicals Show by Show, 1997.
Rivka Kavan, Backstage: Broadway behind the Curtain, 1991.
Richard Kislan, The Musical: A Look at Musical Theatre, revised edition, 1995.
Prince continues to challenge old conventions in musical theater, and remains an involved presence in theater both through his new productions and through the workshops he regularly conducts to sponsor new talent. "'You just can't keep recycling revivals,'" Prince told Isenberg in the Los Angeles Times. "'And you can't keep betting on the efforts of guys like me who've been around. You have to take the next step and bet on the next generation. I would submit that audiences don't care where the material comes from, whether it's from a famous composer, director, or librettist. They only care about whether the show is going to please, stimulate, surprise [and] astonish them. Not merely trivially entertain them. Audiences are quite happy to be astonished and they don't care who does that astonishing.'"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Bartow, Arthur, The Director's Voice: Twenty-one Interviews, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1988.
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 26, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, Volume 19, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Hirsch, Foster, Harold Prince and the American Musical Theatre, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Ilson, Carol, Harold Prince: From Pajama Game to Phantom of the Opera, UMI Research Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1989.
International Dictionary of Opera, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Mast, Gerald, Can't Help Singin': The American Musical on Stage and Screen, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1987.
Morrden, Ethan, Better Foot Forward: The History of the American Musical Theater, Grossman Publishers (New York, NY), 1976.
Morrden, Ethan, Broadway Babies: The People Who Made the American Musical, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1983.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Back Stage, May 14, 1993, Martin Schaeffer, review of Kiss of the Spider Woman, p. 44.
Billboard, October 29, 1994, Eric Boehlert, review of Show Boat, p. 50.
Christian Science Monitor, May 18, 1993, review of Kiss of the Spider Woman; October 7, 1994, review of Show Boat.
Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1994, Barbara Isenberg, "Prince at the Helm," p. 3; January 8, 1995, Laurie Winer, review of Show Boat, p. 47; December 28, 1995, Laurie Winer, review of Kiss of the Spider Woman, p. 1; April 22, 2001, Barbara Isenberg, "A Believer in Big Breaks," p. 1.
Maclean's, November 1, 1993, John Bemrose, review of Show Boat, pp. 71-72.
New Leader, March 9, 1992, Stefan Kanfer, review of Grandchild of Kings, p. 23; June 14, 1993, Stefan Kanfer, review of Kiss of the Spider Woman, p. 23; January 11, 1999, Stefan Kanfer, review of Parade, p. 22.
New Republic, February 8, 1999, Robert Brustein, review of Parade, pp. 26-28.
New York Times, December 4, 1966, Walter Kerr, review of Cabaret, section 2, p. 5; February 12, 1995, David Richards, review of Show Boat, section 2, p. 8; March 27, 2001, Anne Midgette, review of Don Giovanni, p. E3; March 5, 2003, Anne Midgette, review of Faust, p. E1.
Time, May 3, 1993, William A. Henry III, review of Kiss of the Spider Woman, pp. 70-71.
Wall Street Journal, February 9, 1990, Manuela Hoelterhoff, review of Faust, p. A9; July 2, 2003, Joel Henning, "Forget the Failure," p. D8.
Washington Post, June 7, 1993, Lloyd Rose, "'Angels,' 'Kiss' Top the Tony Awards," p. D1.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation Web site,http://www.abc.net.au/ (1998), Stephen Crittenden, interview with Prince.*
"Prince, Hal." Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 58. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 13, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/prince-hal
"Prince, Hal." Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 58. . Retrieved January 13, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/prince-hal