Harold Prince, the Broadway icon who produced and/or directed some of the 20th century’s most famous musicals West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Damn Yankees, Cabaret, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera, died today in Reykjavik, Iceland, after a brief illness. He was 91.
If you’ve ever hummed — or belted out — a showtune from the past half-century, there’s a good chance “Hal” Prince was involved in the original production of its musical. Winner of 21 Tony Awards — the second-most of anyone after Roger S. Berlind — he also produced or directed such iconic Main Stem musicals as The Pajama Game, Candide, A Little Night Music, Show Boat, Company, Fiorello! and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Eight shows he produced won the Tony for Best Musical — ranging from The Pajama Game (1955) to Candide (1974). He also won the Best Direction of a Musical for eight shows including Show Boat, Follies, Sweeney Todd and Evita, and was nominated 16 times in the category spanning 35 years. Prince also amassed three special Tonys over the decades.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, who penned The Phantom of the Opera and Evita, remembered Prince in a statement today. “Farewell, Hal. Not just the prince of musicals, the crowned head who directed two of the greatest productions of my career, Evita and Phantom. This wonderful man taught me so much and his mastery of musical theatre was without equal.”
Prince’s Broadway career ran nearly 70 years — from his first gig as an assistant stage manager on Tickets, Please! in 1950 through directing Prince of Broadway in 2017.
After stage managing Wonderful Town in 1953, Prince produced his first show the following year. The Pajama Game ran for more than 2 1/2 years at the St. James Theatre and picked up Tonys for Best Musical, Featured Actress Carol Haney and Choreography for a kid making his Broadway debut in that role — Bob Fosse. He would reteam with Prince for their next show, the revered Damn Yankees, which also ran for 2 1/2 years.
Born on January 30, 1928, in — appropriately — Manhattan, Prince served in the Army in Germany during World War II after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. After learning the ropes as stage manager of a pair of Main Stem shows, he catapulted to stardom with the first two Broadway musicals he produced: The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. Both won the Best Musical Tony. After producing the Gwen Verdon-led New Girl in Town (1957), his next two productions also won the marquee Tony: Fiorello! (1959) and West Side Story (1960).
His Broadway directing career began with A Family Affair (1966), but it wasn’t a success. He would have trouble landing a big hit as director for several years, helming such short-running fare as She Loves Me, Baker Street It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman between 1963 and mid-’66. But that unlucky streak was about to change.
The third show Prince produced and directed, after She Loves Me and Superman, was Cabaret. Opening in 1966 at the Broadhurst Theatre, it won eight Tonys including Best Musical and Prince’s first for Best Direction. The show would run for nearly two years, moving to the Imperial Theatre then to the Broadway Theatre during its run.
Prince also directed and produced or co-produced Broadway’s Company, Follies, The Great God Brown, A Little Night Music, The Visit, Candide, Love for Love, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along, A Doll’s Life, Grind and Hollywood Arms.
The 1970 hit Company reteam Prince with Stephen Sondheim, a decade after they had worked together on West Side Story. It spurred a series of hit-and-miss collaborations between the Broadway legends over the next 11 years that also included Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd and Merrily We Roll Along.
Many of Prince’s musicals were adapted as feature films, including Best Picture winner West Side Story (1961) — which Steven Spielberg is remaking — and Best Pic nominees Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and Cabaret (1972). Fiddler won three Oscars but lost the marquee prize to The French Connection, and the Fosse-helmed Cabaret danced off with eight trophies but knelt before The Godfather.
Other Broadway shows he produced or directed that made it to the silver screen include The Pajama Game (1957), Damn Yankees (1958), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), Evita (1990), The Phanton of the Opera (2004), Sweeney Todd (as Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2007), Company (2011) and Merrily We Roll Along (2013).
Prince also directed the 1977 film version of A Little Light Music and the 1970 feature Something for Everyone and was an associate producer of Pajama Game and Damn Ynkees films.
He earned his Special Awards from the Tonys in 2006, 1974 and 1972 — the latter two presented for Candide and Fiddler on the Roof, respectively. He was a former chairman of the board of the Broadway League, the national trade association for the Broadway industry.
Prince is survived by his wife of 56 years, Judy; daughter Daisy and son Charles; and three grandchildren. Per his wishes, there will be no funeral. A celebration of his life for members of the theatrical community is planned for the fall.