Harold Prince Dies: Broadway Legend Who Produced Original ‘West Side Story’, ‘Fiddler’, ‘Phantom’ & More Was 91
By Erik Pedersen
Harold Prince, the Broadway icon who produced 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, more than any other individual, 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.
Prince with his Best Direction Tony for ‘Evita’ in 1980 AP/Shutterstock
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 Townin 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.
Cabaret, which would become a Fosse-directed 1972 film that won eight Oscars but lost Best Picture to The Godfather, reteamed Prince with West Side Story lyricist Stephen Sondheim. They would go on to collaborate on several more musicals through 2006’s Bounce.
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.
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.
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.
· STATEMENT FROM ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER ON THE PASSING OF HAROLD PRINCE
"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.”