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If you like Harold Prince's story, you might also like:
Edward Albee,
Julie Andrews,
Carol Burnett,
Athol Fugard,
Jeremy Irons,
James Earl Jones,
Audra McDonald,
Trevor Nunn,
Lloyd Richards,
Stephen Sondheim,
Julie Taymor,
Twyla Tharp and
Kiri Te Kanawa

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Harold Prince
Harold Prince
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Harold Prince Biography

Broadway Producer and Director

Harold Prince Date of birth: January 30, 1928

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  Harold Prince

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Harold Smith Prince was born in New York City. At an early age, he was taken to Broadway shows by his theater-loving parents, and he soon discovered a lifelong calling. Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania at age 19, Prince looked for a way to break into the theater.

At first, Hal Prince's interest lay in serious drama. He credits the 1945 musical On the Town with awakening his interest in the expressive possibilities of music and dance in the American theater. The show introduced a number of new talents to the Broadway stage: the composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins and the writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green. These artists were all still in their mid-20s, but the production was directed by the veteran showman George Abbott, whose theatrical career had begun in the first decade of the 20th century. A phenomenally prolific producer, playwright and director, Abbott was known on Broadway as "the Apprentice's Sorcerer" for his ability to identify and nurture young talent. Prince offered Abbott his services, and the older man gave him a job running simple errands. Abbott often had a number of projects in the works simultaneously, and Prince soon graduated to doctoring television scripts and stage managing Abbott's touring productions.

Prince was drafted into the army in 1950; he served in Germany, where he soaked up atmosphere he would later draw on for his groundbreaking production of Cabaret. On returning from the service, Prince went back to work for George Abbott, stage managing Wonderful Town, a show that reunited composer Bernstein with lyricists Comden and Green.

Harold Prince Biography Photo
By age 26, Prince felt ready to try his wings as a producer. In partnership with fellow Abbott protégé Robert E. Griffith, he acquired the rights to a popular novel, 7 1/2 Cents, a comic depiction of a strike in a pajama factory. The novice producers hired their former boss, George Abbott, to collaborate with the book's author, Richard Bissell, in adapting the novel for the musical stage. Abbott also directed the show, with assistance from Jerome Robbins. The dances were staged by a talented Broadway newcomer, choreographer Bob Fosse. The show's composers, Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, were also making their Broadway debuts. Prince and Griffith collected small contributions from over a hundred small investors, including the cast and crew of Wonderful Town. The resulting show, The Pajama Game, was the surprise hit of the 1954 season; it immediately recouped its investment and won Broadway's Tony Award as Best Musical of the Year.

Prince and Griffith followed their first hit quickly with Damn Yankees, based on another popular novel, about an aging baseball fan who sells his soul to the devil to become a young ball player and lead his beloved Washington Senators to victory. Abbott, Fosse, Adler and Ross all returned for a second hit production, which made a star of dancer and comedienne Gwen Verdon and brought Griffith and Prince their second Tony Award for Best Musical. Griffith and Prince had earned a reputation for bringing their shows in on a tight budget, paying off their investors early, and taking a hands-on approach to every detail of their productions.

Although Prince's first two shows were fun-filled romps in the established George Abbott manner, darker colors were appearing in Prince's choice of subject matter. New Girl in Town, a musical adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's somber drama Anna Christie, found Abbott and Prince working again with star Verdon and choreographer Fosse. Verdon and Fosse had formed an offstage partnership, and would soon marry. Abbott and Prince found themselves at odds with the pair over some of Fosse's choreography, which they considered too raunchy for Broadway. Prince and Fosse did not work together again, and throughout his career Prince has preferred ensemble shows to star vehicles. New Girl in Town enjoyed a modest run, but Griffith and Prince were ready for a more inspiring challenge.

Harold Prince Biography Photo
They leaped at the chance to work with Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins on their dream project, a Romeo and Juliet story, set among New York street gangs. West Side Story thrilled audiences with its powerful score and dynamic dancing. For the first time, Broadway audiences saw a musical present a serious, dramatic story in a contemporary setting. The day before the show opened, National Guardsmen escorted the first African American students into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. West Side Story's implicit plea for tolerance resonated powerfully in a nation gripped by ethnic conflict. A landmark in American theater, West Side Story became a beloved classic. It also marked the Broadway debut of songwriter Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the show's lyrics and would play a major role in Harold Prince's subsequent career.

Griffith and Prince took on another unusual project in 1959, with Fiorello, an affectionate look at the early career of New York City's beloved mayor, Fiorello La Guardia. The music and lyrics were by the up-and-coming team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. The show not only won the Tony Award for Best Musical, but a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a rare honor for a musical.

Robert Griffith died in 1961, and Prince continued on his own, supported by an army of loyal investors. Prince had long hoped to direct, and made his Broadway directing debut with a non-musical play, Family Affair, in 1962. The same year, Prince married Judith Chaplin, the daughter of film and theater composer Saul Chaplin. The Princes have two children, daughter Daisy, a theater director, and son Charles Prince, a conductor.

After Robert Griffith's death, Harold Prince produced Stephen Sondheim's first Broadway musical as a composer, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum. A musical adaptation of ancient Roman farces, the show starred Zero Mostel, and was directed by the ageless George Abbott, with a last-minute assist from Jerome Robbins. The production won the Tony Award for Best Musical and an additional award for Prince as the show's producer.

Harold Prince Biography Photo
Prince enjoyed his first success as a director with She Loves Me (1963), a charming, intimate musical, based on the classic film, The Shop Around the Corner, with songs by the Fiorello team of Bock and Harnick. The show enjoyed a successful run and brought Prince his first Tony nomination as a director, but did not establish a distinct directorial identity for him. Meanwhile, Bock and Harnick had another show up their sleeve, a dramatization of the Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem's tales of Jewish village life in pre-revolutionary Russia. To many, this seemed a highly improbable subject for a Broadway musical, and a far cry from the fun and games of George Abbott's world. Fiddler on the Roof, produced by Prince, directed by Jerome Robbins, and starring the volatile Zero Mostel, was an instant hit. Fiddler won a Tony Award for Best Musical as well as a second Best Producer Tony for Prince himself. The show struck a chord with audiences around the world and became an international institution. On Broadway, it played to sold-out houses, season after season. For many years it held the title of longest-running show in Broadway history. Prince's record as a producer of Broadway musicals was now unrivaled, and in 1964, Time magazine profiled him as one of its "Millionaires Under 40."

Harold Prince Biography Photo
In 1965, Prince produced one more show with his old friend George Abbott directing: Flora the Red Menace, with a score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, introduced 19-year-old Liza Minnelli to Broadway. Prince was now ready to devote himself to directing, and his next show established his reputation for daring subject matter and unconventional staging. Cabaret, with a score by Kander and Ebb, dramatized Christopher Isherwood's tales of bohemian life in Berlin in the 1930s, as the Weimar Republic gave way to the dictatorship of the Nazis. In Prince's vision, a sardonic Master of Ceremonies leads a ragtag chorus in a sleazy nightclub, with numbers indirectly commenting on the chaotic lives of the characters in a disintegrating society. Above the stage, Prince's favorite set designer, Boris Aronson, hung a large, rippled mirror, placing the audience themselves in the middle of the stage picture, and forcing them to compare their own situation to that of the complacent audience in the sordid Berlin nightclub. The show not only won the Tony for Best Musical, but brought Prince his first Tony as Best Director of a Musical.

After Fiddler on the Roof, Jerome Robbins left the theater behind to spend most of the rest of his life working in the world of ballet, and Harold Prince reigned alone as the most inventive and adventurous director of musicals on Broadway. Prince is widely viewed as the pioneer of the "concept musical," in which conventional linear narrative is subordinated to a single metaphor or controlling idea, with songs and musical numbers deliberately breaking the continuity of the story to comment on characters or ideas the story has introduced.

Harold Prince Biography Photo
In the 1970s, Prince embarked on an intense collaboration with his old friend Stephen Sondheim, creating a series of productions that marked a high point in the development of the musical theater. Their first venture, Company (1970), was an episodic ensemble piece, depicting the relationships of one bachelor and his circle of married friends, adrift in contemporary Manhattan. The work was hailed for Sondheim's score, Prince's impressionistic staging, and for the work's sophisticated portrayal of adult relationships. Company took home a Tony for Best Musical and another Best Director prize for Prince.

An even more ambitious work, Follies (1971), interwove nostalgic musical numbers -- evoking America's theatrical past -- with a day in the life of two middle-aged couples. The story unwinds at a reunion of old chorus girls in a condemned theater, with the older characters mingling onstage with the ghosts of their younger selves. Although the elaborate production could not recoup its costs, enthusiasts of the musical theater regard Follies with particular affection. Prince received the Best Director Tony again. Prince and Sondheim's next collaboration, A Little Night Music (1973), was adapted from Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night. It received the Tony for Best Musical, and enjoyed a successful run on Broadway and on tour. This sweet ensemble piece was followed by a staggeringly ambitious work, Pacific Overtures (1976), which took as its theme the relations of America and Japan over the course of a century. Prince's staging drew on the traditions of Japanese painting and stagecraft to create a visually exquisite spectacle, but the show failed to find an audience and quickly closed.

Harold Prince Biography Photo
Between theatrical adventures with Stephen Sondheim, Prince enjoyed a nostalgic foray into traditional musical comedy, On the Twentieth Century, with his fellow Abbott alumni, Comden and Green. Although the show broke no new ground artistically, it was a solid success. In these years, Prince also directed a number of classic plays, and a revival of Leonard Bernstein's Candide (1974) that enjoyed a far more successful run than the original production. His work on Candide earned him that year's Tony for Best Direction of a Musical, and a special award for Distinguished Contribution to the Advancement of the Musical Theater. The Prince and Sondheim team returned with a vengeance in Sweeney Todd (1979). They adapted a Victorian melodrama for this gleefully ghoulish tale of a barber who murders his customers and has them baked into meat pies. In Prince's hands, cannibalism serves as a metaphor for the excess and exploitation of the early inudstrial age. Sweeney Todd is widely considered the pinnacle of Prince and Sondheim's collaboration.

Prince found a new collaborator in the young British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had enjoyed an early success with his rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Lloyd Webber and his librettist, Tim Rice, had written a musical based on the life of Eva Peron, the charismatic wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron. Their work, Evita, which they first released as a recording, was sung through from beginning to end, like an opera, rather than alternating song and dialogue in the manner of an American musical. Prince was drawn to the spectacular subject and supplied it with appropriately dazzling staging. Evita was a sensation, first in London and then in New York, where Prince received another Best Directing Tony.

In Merrily We Roll Along (1981), Prince and Stephen Sondheim revisited the theatrical world of their early years, adapting Kaufman and Hart's bittersweet tale of youthful idealism and middle-aged disillusionment, told in reverse chronological order. Although the show had its admirers, it was a commercial disappointment. Prince and Sondheim, still close friends, decided to end their professional partnership and work with other collaborators. Following his collaboration with Sondheim, Prince gave up producing chores and devoted himself entirely to directing, but seven years would pass before Prince brought another hit to Broadway.

In the 1970s, Harold Prince had made two forays into feature film direction, with the black comedy Something for Everyone (1970), starring Michael York and Angela Lansbury, and the film version of A Little Night Music (1977), starring Elizabeth Taylor. Neither was a commercial success, and Prince concluded that his talents were best suited to live performance. He found a more congenial venue for his theatrical gifts in the world of opera, directing productions of Puccini's Girl of the Golden West and Madame Butterfly, as well as Mozart's Don Giovanni and an original American opera, Willie Stark (1981), based on the novel All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. Although a number of Prince's Broadway shows in this period were disappointments, he enjoyed success in the opera house with revivals of Candide and Sweeney Todd.

Harold Prince Biography Photo
Given the success of Evita, Prince and Andrew Lloyd Webber were eager to collaborate again. The result was Prince's greatest success of all, a lush and romantic musical retelling of the gothic horror tale Phantom of the Opera (1987). Critics and audiences in London and New York hailed Prince's breathtaking staging as the main attraction. Prince won the year's Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical. From its opening night, the show has remained in continuous performance on Broadway. Touring companies circle the globe, and fans of the show return to see it time and time again.

In 1994, Prince scored again with the definitive revival of America's first musical classic, Show Boat. Another collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Whistle Down the Wind, closed before coming to Broadway, but the indefatigable Prince undertook one of his most daring ventures, Parade (1998), a musical retelling of the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia. The score introduced the young composer Jason Robert Brown to a Broadway audience.

Kiss of the Spider Woman (2003) reunited Harold Prince with Cabaret songwriters Kander and Ebb and West Side Story star Chita Rivera for a musical version of Argentine novelist Manuel Puig's tale of political prisoners in a nameless South American country. That same year, Prince finally revived his partnership with Stephen Sondheim to direct Sondheim's musical Bounce at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.

Harold Prince Biography Photo
In 2006, Harold Prince was presented the special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater. With over 50 plays, musicals and operas to his credit, Harold Prince has won a record-setting 21 Tonys -- more than any other individual -- including eight for directing, eight for producing, two as producer of the year's Best Musical and three special awards.

Prince's show, LoveMusik, about the romance of composer Kurt Weill and actress-singer Lotte Lenya, enjoyed a brief run in New York in 2007. In 2010, Prince co-directed the London premiere of Paradise Found with choreographer Susan Stroman. This new musical was based on The Tale of the 1002nd Night, by the Austrian novelist Joseph Roth, with a score adapted by composer Jonathan Tunick from the music of Johann Strauss, Jr.

For half a century, Harold Prince's work has been recognized for its daring subject matter, for its unconventional views of romantic love and for its sensitivity to the political context of the story onstage and the world outside the theater. In the last half century, no one has played a larger role in shaping the musical theater as we know it. His audience has learned that the only thing they can expect from Harold Prince is the unexpected.

This page last revised on Nov 09, 2010 17:39 EDT
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