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Harold Prince

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Also Known As: Harold Smith Prince, Harold S Prince, Hal Prince Died:
Born: January 30, 1928 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: producer, director, office boy

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Director-producer Harold Prince changed the face of Broadway as its preeminent showman of the second half of the 20th Century by pioneering the so-called "concept musical", a show built around an idea that incorporated fluid, cinematic staging, a strong score and utilitarian scenery. Beginning in the mid-1960s with "Cabaret" and stretching through to 1998's "Parade", a Prince-directed musical, whether successful or not, always signaled quality.Wishing to work in legitimate theater, the New York native set his feet instead on an alternative path when he began his long association with his mentor, author-director George Abbott. "[Abbott] did musicals and you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. So I ended up doing musicals." He began his Broadway producing career with a bang when "Pajama Game" (1954) won the Best Musical Tony Award, an honor six of his subsequent collaborations with 'Mr. Abbott' (including "Damn Yankees" 1955, the Pulitzer-winning "Fiorello!" 1959 and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" 1962) would also receive. Prince also fostered relationships with playwrights and songwriters. For example, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick crafted the scores for a number of...

Director-producer Harold Prince changed the face of Broadway as its preeminent showman of the second half of the 20th Century by pioneering the so-called "concept musical", a show built around an idea that incorporated fluid, cinematic staging, a strong score and utilitarian scenery. Beginning in the mid-1960s with "Cabaret" and stretching through to 1998's "Parade", a Prince-directed musical, whether successful or not, always signaled quality.

Wishing to work in legitimate theater, the New York native set his feet instead on an alternative path when he began his long association with his mentor, author-director George Abbott. "[Abbott] did musicals and you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. So I ended up doing musicals." He began his Broadway producing career with a bang when "Pajama Game" (1954) won the Best Musical Tony Award, an honor six of his subsequent collaborations with 'Mr. Abbott' (including "Damn Yankees" 1955, the Pulitzer-winning "Fiorello!" 1959 and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" 1962) would also receive. Prince also fostered relationships with playwrights and songwriters. For example, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick crafted the scores for a number of Prince-produced shows; some were outright flops (e.g., "Tenderloin" 1960). others moderately successful (i.e., "She Loves Me" 1963) and one was a true blockbuster ("Fiddler on the Roof" 1964, which at one time held the title as the longest-running show in Broadway history). He also worked closely with John Kander (directing that composer's first musical "A Family Affair" in 1962) who was later partnered with Fred Ebb on such musicals as "Flora, the Red Menace" (1962), "Cabaret" (1966) and, more recently, "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1993). But it is Prince's collaboration with Stephen Sondheim that ranks as the apotheosis of his career. The producer-director pushed the limits of staging with the landmark musicals "Company" (1970, which was essentially a series of loosely related one-act plays tied together by a sublime score) and "Follies" (1971, on the surface a reunion of aging showgirls but really about the loss of innocence and the fears of growing older, if not wiser).

Prince actually began to explore unlikely material for a musical in the late 50s when he joined with Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins and Sondheim for "West Side Story" (1957), a modern-day spin on "Romeo and Juliet" set against gang warfare on NYC streets. While admired in its original run. it was a production that was so far ahead of its time that few truly appreciated its integration of story, music and dance. (Only after the successful 1961 film adaptation did the musical come to be regarded as a "classic", spawning numerous revivals, touring and regional productions.) By the time he steered "Cabaret" nearly a decade later, Prince had begun to explore ways of stretching stagecraft so as to resemble film. For "Cabaret" in collaboration with designer Boris Aronson, he dared to hang a huge mirror over the stage in which the audience sees its reflection (thereby tacitly involving them in the tragedies on stage and indicting them as possible co-conspirators in a world where Nazism could easily take root). Also, by placing the orchestra on stage, the musical numbers in the Kit Kat Club (led by Joel Grey's devilish Emcee) took on an added significance. In its day. Prince's direction of "Cabaret" broke significant ground and brought him his first Tony Award. (Ironically, when he recreated the staging for a 1987 revival, his direction seemed almost quaint. It took British director Sam Mendes to uncover new meanings in his acclaimed site specific staging first in London and later in NYC in the 1990s.)

The Sondheim collaborations are in a class of their own. "Company" played like a movie on stage with its constantly shifting perspectives, use of inner monologues, and dance all on Aronoson's pristine set. "Follies", furthermore, was an incredible blend of past and present simultaneously presented on stage. The younger versions of the main characters, or "ghosts", were decked in black and white costumes (symbolic of a bygone era) in contrast with the color of the modern story. "Follies" perhaps remains Prince's most cinematic staging, getting as close as possible to using techniques of film like wipes, dissolves and even close-ups. One number in particular, co-staged with Michael Bennett (who handled the choreographic elements of the show), was perhaps indicative: a line of aging chorus girls perform "Who's That Girl?" while their youthful counterparts mirrored their steps.

"A Little Night Music" (1973), on the other hand, was more conventional in its staging; a gemlike operetta examining the many manifestations of love and romance played against Sondheim's score composed entirely in three-quarter time. His revised version of Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" (1974), with additional lyrics by Sondheim and a new book by Hugh Wheeler, pioneered the site specific stagings that became in vogue later. "Pacific Overtures" (1976), with its story about the opening of Japan to the West, allowed Prince to incorporate Noh theater techniques. "Sweeney Todd" (1979) was perhaps the most gruesome of the pair's collaboration but Prince married the English hall tradition (embodied by Angela Lansbury's Mrs. Lovett) with Grand Guignol (personified in Len Cariou's Todd) with the standard juvenile lovers thrown in for good measure. "Sweeney Todd" further pushed the boundaries of musical theater, marrying opera and musical comedy. Indeed, Prince has staged several subsequent productions of the show at opera houses around the world.

The Sondheim-Prince collaboration came to an end (to date) with the ill-fated "Merrily We Roll Along". Reteaming with George Furth, the pair attempted to musicalize a Kaufman and Hart comedy about friendship that was told in reverse chronology. Setting the story against a showbiz milieu allowed for some interesting scenes but there were fundamental difficulties despite Sondheim's most accessible score. The backwards time frame was retained which confused audiences and Prince opted to cast young. mostly inexperienced actors (including his own daughter Daisy). Following this flawed musical, the Prince-Sondheim professional partnership came to an end.

Ironically, Prince found renewed success at the helm of "Evita", a pop opera about the life of Argentina's First Lady Eva Peron, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. In theatrical circles, Sondheim and Lloyd Webber have been pitted as the savior and the destroyer of contemporary musical theater--a fairly simplistic view. Lloyd Webber's musicals do tend to have the added level of spectacle and Prince's staging of "Evita" (1978) blended his usual cinematic approach with the traditionally operatic. The hybrid proved a popular (if not critical) success. Lloyd Webber asked Prince to undertake the direction of "The Phantom of the Opera" in 1986. While much was made of the falling chandelier, a coup de theatre that ended the show's first act, most overlooked the lilting score, superlative acting and integration of movement, story and score. While there have been other misfires (most notably "Grind" in 1985), Prince has spent much of the 80s and 90s alternating between directing operas around the world and staging musicals. He galvanized the Kander and Ebb musical "Kiss of the Spider Woman", shepherding what had been a show with a troubled history and turning it into a success. He further scored a major triumph with his approach to "Show Boat" in 1995, crafting the definitive version of this much-revived and much-revised show (for which he earned his 20th Tony Award). Produced under the auspices of Livent, this "Show Boat" restored much material that was cut yet lost none of its bite with regard to its controversial depiction of race relations that were as prevalent in the 90s. Again under the Livent banner, Prince teamed with award-winning playwright Alfred Uhry and co-conceiver of "Parade" (1998), an examination of the famous Leo Frank case in 1913 Atlanta. Frank, a Northern Jew, was convicted of killing young Mary Phagan, a teenager who worked at the factory where he was a supervisor. While this hardly seemed material for a musical (as the show's detractors were quick to point out), Prince once again proved otherwise. Working with a relatively young composer (Jason Robert Brown in his Broadway debut), he crafted what proved to be the only "traditional" (i.e., book) musical of the 1998-1999 theater season. Despite its mixed reception and audience apathy, "Parade" won numerous accolades and racked up the most Tony Award nominations--nine--of any show.

What is perhaps most ironic about Prince and his career is that when he has ventured to work in celluloid, this most cinematic of stage directors flounders. One might assume that he would easily translate the techniques he has perfected in the theater to his on screen work, but the two films he has helmed, "Something for Everyone" (1970) and "A Little Night Music" (1977) both come across as static and visually uninteresting. The former, a black comedy starring Michael York and Angela Lansbury that interpolated a handful of songs, was perhaps the more successful realized. In its time, however, it proved a box-office disappointment as the story of an ambitious man (York) who will stop at nothing to get ahead in life (and that includes murder and seduction) was overshadowed by the scenery and lackadaisical camerawork. Even more disastrous was "A Little Night Music". While the original source material was Ingmar Bergman's bittersweet farce "Smiles of a Summer Night" (1955), Prince approached the screen adaptation as the presentation of a show-within-a-show. The opening scene revealed a proscenium stage on which the operetta was unfolding. While the performances were passable (with Elizabeth Taylor making her singing debut in the leading role of Desiree), the joy and wit of the original piece did not translate well. Prince's direction came off as flat and uninspiring and what was effervescent on Broadway fizzled on screen. Perhaps recognizing that his true talents lie with live performance, the producer-director has yet to helm another feature and instead returned to the worlds of opera and theater where he has proven to be one of the greatest practitioners in America--if not the world.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

2.
  Little Night Music, A (1977) Director
3.
  Something for Everyone (1970) Director
4.
  50th Annual Tony Awards, The (1996) Director ("Phantom Of The Opera")
5.
  Madama Butterfly (1989) Stage Director
6.
  Candide (1986) Stage Director

CAST: (feature film)

3.
 Intimate Portrait: Linda Lavin (2003) Interviewee
5.
 Leonard Bernstein's New York (1997) Special Thanks
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1948:
Began his association with George Abbott, starting off working as his office boy (date approximate)
1949:
Met future collaborator Stephen Sondheim at the opening night party for "South Pacific"
1954:
Broadway producing debut (with Frederick Brisson and Robert E Griffith), "The Pajama Game", authored and directed by Abbott; earned first Tony Award as producer
1955:
Produced (with Brisson and Griffith) Abbott's "Damn Yankees"
1957:
With Griffith, produced "West Side Story"; first collaboration with Stephen Sondheim who wrote the lyrics
1957:
First film credit as associate producer on "The Pajama Game"
1958:
Served as associate producer on the film adaptation of "Damn Yankees"
1959:
Reteamed with Abbott and Griffith for the award-winning "Fiorello!"; score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick
1960:
Produced back-to-back flops with scores by Bock and Harnick, "Body Beautiful" and "Tenderloin"
1962:
Directorial debut with the ill-fated musical "A Family Affair"; initial collaboration with composer John Kander; book and lyrics by James and William Goldman
1962:
Produced "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", the first musical for which Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics; directed by Abbott
1963:
Directed and co-produced the musical "She Loves Me", with a score by Bock and Harnick
1964:
Assumed leadership of the League of New York Theatres from producer Herman Shumlin
1964:
Produced "Fiddler on the Roof" on Broadway; score by Bock and Harnick
1965:
Served as a producer on the Kander and Ebb musical "Flora, the Red Menace", starring Liza Minnelli; final collaboration with George Abbott
1966:
Produced and directed last "conventional" book musical the ill-fated "It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman"
1966:
Directed and produced (with Ruth Mitchell) "Cabaret" on Broadway, earning his first Tony for directing for his cinematic staging; score by Kander and Ebb
1968:
Helmed and produced (with Mitchell) the musical "Zorba!", based on the 1964 feature film "Zorba the Greek"; score by Kander and Ebb
1970:
Feature directing debut, "Something for Everyone", starring Angela Lansbury and Michael York
1970:
Directed the landmark Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical "Company"; first of Prince's "concept musicals" which included fluid, cinematic staging
1971:
Reteamed with Sondheim and James Goldman for the much-admired "Follies", another "concept musical" about the reunion of showgirls; shared directing dutied with Michael Bennett
1973:
Directed and produced (with Mitchell) Sondheim's "A Little Night Music"; book by Hugh Wheeler
1974:
Revived Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" (directing and producing); the environmental staging helped make the production a success despite its initial failure in 1956; Sondheim contributed additional lyrics while Wheeler refashioned the book
1976:
Helmed and produced the Sondheim musical "Pacific Overtures", with a book by John Weidman; plot dealt with the opening of Japan to the West in the 18th Century; staging influenced by Kabuki theater
1977:
Directed feature film version of "A Little Night Music", starring Elizabeth Taylor
:
Directed the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler Grand Guignol musical "Sweeney Todd", starring Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury
1978:
First collaboration as director with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, the London production of "Evita", starring Elaine Paige
:
Restaged "Evita" in the USA with Patti LuPone in the lead
1981:
Stumbled with Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along"; production's plot unfolded in reverse chronology and was hampered by his casting young people in roles that aged from teenagers to people in their 40s; book by Furth; last collaboration to date with Sondheim
1982:
Staged "Candide" at the New York City Opera
1985:
As one of the four co-creators of "Grind", suspended by the Dramatists Guild for agreeing to a contract that fell below the Guild's standards
1986:
Resigned from the League of American Theatres and Producers, protesting its lack of concern over rising ticket prices and labor costs
1986:
Reunited with Lloyd Webber to stage "The Phantom of the Opera" in London; its move to Broadway in 1988 would end his eight-year Tony drought, earning him the award for Best Director of a Musical
1992:
Directed "Kiss of the Spider Woman", first in Canada, later in London; show moved to Broadway in 1993
1992:
Directed the Kander and Ebb musical (with book by Terrence McNally) "Kiss of the Spider Woman", first in Canada, later in London; show moved to Broadway in 1993; first collaboration with Livent
1995:
Earned 20th Tony Award for directing the revival of "Showboat", produced under the auspices of Livent
1997:
Experienced a failure with the revival of "Candide"
1998:
Co-conceived (with playwright Alfred Uhry) the Broadway musical "Parade", about the events surrounding the trial of Leo Frank in Atlanta in the early 20th Century; score by Jason Robert Brown; also produced by Livent; received Tony nomination as director
2000:
Staged the trio of one-act musicals under the umbrella title "3hree"; restaged productions in L.A. in 2001
2002:
Directed the stage play "Hollywood Arms", co-written by Carol Burnett and her daughter Carrie Hamilton
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

University of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia , Pennsylvania - 1948

Notes

Received the National Medal of Arts from US President Bill Clinton (2000).

"There are a number of reviewers, and to please them all is very rare. Usually, if you do please them all, it's because the material isn't as dangerous as you might wish. We got the cover of Time magazine for 'Follies', and we lost out on the cover of Newsweek only because, at the last minute, someone declared war or jumped off a building or something; but we got a bad review in one of the major newspapers. We also got a lot of Tony Awards, but not for best musical. The original reviews of 'Evita' weren't all that good, but we did get the Drama Critics Award and the Tony. There isn't any logic prevailing, so I can't make an equation. I can only repeat what my wife said to me, impatiently, some years ago. She said, 'When will you learn the difference between 'success or failure' and 'hit or flop?' There can be a vast difference between a success and a hit. That's always been true." --Harold Prince quoted in InTheater, January 30, 1998.

Prince is sanguine about audience reaction to his bigger statements: "After 'Cabaret' one night a woman came up to me and said, 'Why don't you sell dolls of that MC fellow, he's so cute. We'd all buy them.' What, with his swastika armband and everything, I thought." --Prince to the London Times, February 22, 1998.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Judy Prince. Concert pianist. Married on October 26, 1962; suggested to husband the idea for a musical about teenagers that resulted in "Merrily We Roll Along" (1981).

Family close complete family listing

father:
Milton A Prince. Stockbroker.
mother:
Blanche Prince.
father-in-law:
Saul Chaplin. Composer. Born on February 12, 1912; died on November 15, 1997.
son:
Charles Prince. Composer, conductor. Born c. 1963.
daughter:
Daisy Prince. Actor, director. Born c. 1965; married actor Alexander Gaberman in May 1997; changed surname to Chaplin to honor her mother and grandfather, composer Saul Chaplin; made directing debut with Jason Robert Brown's "Songs for a New World" (1995).
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Contradictions: Notes on Twenty-Six Years in the Theatre" Dodd

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