Thursday, August 1, 2019

Theater's Prince

The two things that characterize him most are energy and impatience.  He trained as a stage manager and he learned the business from the ground up, so he knows how to order a pair of shoes, which many producers don’t.  A visual imagination is, if not his greatest strength, then one of them.  He sees things visually first, and he knows what a show looks like in his head before he takes it on.  In a certain sense, if Hal had his druthers, he’d direct operas only.  His heroes are directors like Max Reinhardt, the ones who pulled out all the stops.
Stephen Sondheim, on Hal Prince

The lights on Broadway are a lot dimmer tonight.

Hal Prince, Broadway legend and prodigious Tony winner, died Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in Reykjavik, Iceland at the age of 91.  He had been traveling from Switzerland to his home in Manhattan, when he died in Iceland after a brief illness.

Mr. Prince began his work on Broadway in the late 1940s as an office assistant.  By 1949, Mr. Prince was an assistant stage manager on the musical “Touch and Go.”  He would go on to become a successful producer for such shows as “The Pajama Game,” “Damn Yankees,” “New Girl in Town,” “Fiorello!,” “Fiddler on the Roof," and “West Side Story."

I was grateful, but I still wanted to be a director, not just a fellow with a lot of bumbling enthusiasm who said, ‘Yeah’ and ‘Swell’ or ‘Great’ a lot.  I was not creative, not an artist. I was doing interviews about box-office grosses.  I didn’t want to be a business man.  I am a good one, but only by default.  I didn’t get into business to keep books.”  Prince in a 1968 New York Times interview.

It was "West Side Story" that would prove very influential in getting Mr. Prince his directing opportunity.   Though he had met Sondheim years before, “West Side Story” would be their first professional collaboration.  Prince produced with his partner, while Sondheim would provide lyrics.  Prince would then go on to produce “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” With the shows following, Prince would also serve as director: “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” and “Sweeney Todd.”

During this time, Prince would also produce and direct, “It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane..It’s Superman,” “Cabaret,” and “Candide.” He would also form a successful partnership with an unknown at the time British creator, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.  This partnership had Prince direct “Evita,” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”  “Phantom” remains the longest running show on Broadway.

He worked with an embarrassment of riches in creative talent, including Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Susan Stroman, Leonard Bernstein, John Kander, and the aforementioned Stephen Sondheim, and Andrew Lloyd Webber.  He has been awarded 21 Tony’s, far surpassing anyone else in multiple categories.  His awards stretch from 1955 with “Pajama Game” and reach 2006 with his lifetime achievement.  He received his last competitive award in 1995 for his direction of an extravagant revival of “Show Boat.

To say he is a legend is an understatement.

Mr Prince redefined Broadway several times in his career.  With “West Side Story” and Sondheim.  With “Cabaret” and the concept musical.  With “Phantom” and the epic musical.

When prominent theater professionals pass away, it is the tradition of the Broadway community for the lights of all Broadway marquees to simultaneously dim.  They are dimmed at curtain time, usually 8:00 pm and are dimmed for a full minute.  No announcement is made, aside from a press released issued by the Broadway league prior to the event.  Then the lights go up and the show goes on.

It’s a minute of silence, a minute of reflection.  A minute recognizing how dim the theater community is now with the passing of such a contributor.

For Prince, all lights were dimmed for one minute on Wednesday, July 31, 2019, at exactly 7:45 pm.  

To be both a genius and a gentlemen is rare and extraordinary.  Hal Prince’s genius was matched by his generosity of spirit, particularly with those building a career.  Sitting on the T Edward Hambleton Fellowship panel of Mentors alongside Hal was both a lesson in producing and a lesson in humanity.  He was a giant.
Thomas Schumacher, Chairman of the Broadway League

Rest in Peace, dear Prince

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