Harold Prince

Active - 20th Century  |   Born - Jan 30, 1928 in New York, NY  |   Genres - Musical, Theater [nf], Music [nf], Comedy

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Harold Prince is primarily known as a theatrical producer and director, but he has also directed a small handful of film and television/video productions. Harold Prince (who is often referred to informally in print as Hal Prince) attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a B.A. in 1948. He first emerged as a producer in New York in 1954, at the age of 24, with the production of The Pajama Game on stage at the St. James Theater on Broadway. He produced Damn Yankees the following year and both works won Tony Awards. Prince received another Tony nomination in 1958 for West Side Story, and won a Tony as well as a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for the musical Fiorello!, through which actor Tom Bosley first became a stage star. Three years later, Prince won a Tony for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which was notable as the first musical for which Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and not just the lyrics. She Loves Me, although it wasn't as honored as these other works, was notable for securing Prince his first nomination as best director. Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret won him more awards in 1965 and 1967, respectively; those two works, in particular, further burnished Prince's image as a major popular culture figure through the Broadway stage, as they were both long-running works (Fiddler on the Roof broke all existing records at the time) that were transformed into major motion pictures during the 1970s. The musical Zorba closed out the 1960s for Prince with more nominations. The 1970s was truly Prince's decade, with Follies, A Little Night Music, Candide, Pacific Overtures, Side By Side By Sondheim, Sweeney Todd, and Evita to his credit.

As successful as Prince was as a theatrical producer and director, however, his work in film has been decidedly more uneven; though he was involved in the production of the movie adaptations of The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees in the late '50s, Prince's real screen career began with his work as a director in the early '70s on Something for Everyone, made for National General, which was a bizarre and daring piece of cinema, but was never widely seen. His only other feature film was an adaptation of Sondheim's A Little Night Music, which he had directed on Broadway; as the screen adaptation of a successful stage musical (a rarity in the 1970s) and as a starring vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor in a time when she was still regarded as a major screen star, the movie was given a wide release (in contrast to Something for Everyone), but generally it was received by critics and audiences alike as a failure, owing to problems with the casting, as well as the overall treatment of the material.

Prince has also directed several notable television productions, including Candide as part of Live From Lincoln Center, but his major credit on the small screen is the 1982 RKO-Nederlander production of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. It was videotaped on the final night of the touring production and captured much of the essence of the Broadway production; its subsequent broadcast on public television and release on videotape, laserdisc, and DVD has resulted in its being Prince's most widely seen and easily available non-stage work as a director. That video production also paved the way for similar but more sophisticated efforts on behalf of the Sondheim musicals Sunday in the Park With George and Into the Woods. During the 1980s, Prince saw more success on the stage as the director of the musicals Phantom of the Opera and Kiss of the Spider Woman; he also brought a new production of Sweeney Todd to the New York City Opera, as well as directing Don Giovanni and Faust at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

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Factsheet

  • The only child of a self-described "privileged, upper-middle, lower-rich class" German-Jewish family, he regularly attended the theater, beginning at 8 years old with a Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar starring Orson Welles.
  • Started his career as an apprentice for esteemed author, director and producer George Abbott, whom Prince considered a mentor.
  • Drafted into the Army in 1950 and assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery battalion in West Germany, where he frequented a nightclub called Maxim's, which later became the basis for the musical Cabaret.
  • Won a Pulitzer Prize, as well as a Tony, in 1960 for the musical Fiorello!
  • Published his memoir Contradictions in 1974.
  • The 1981 musical flop Merrily We Roll Along marked his sixth (and final) collaboration with lyricist-composer Stephen Sondheim.
  • Was a 1994 Kennedy Center Honoree.
  • Received from President Bill Clinton in 2000 a National Medal of Arts for a 40-plus year career, in which he "changed the nature of the American musical."
  • Is the record holder for the most Tony Award wins by an individual for his work producing and directing shows.
  • Has more than 50 musicals, plays and operas to his credit, including Company, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, Follies, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Pajama Game, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera and West Side Story.