Hal Prince, Broadway Producer And Director, Dies At 91 The winner of an unprecedented 21 Tony Awards, Prince left a major impact on American musical theater. Among his shows: Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof and The Phantom of the Opera. He was 91.
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Hal Prince, Transformational Broadway Producer And Director, Has Died

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Hal Prince, Transformational Broadway Producer And Director, Has Died

Hal Prince, Transformational Broadway Producer And Director, Has Died

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The legendary Broadway director and producer Hal Prince has died. He won a record 21 Tony Awards, and his productions of musicals are classics. They include "Fiddler On The Roof," "Cabaret," "The Phantom Of The Opera" and "Sweeney Todd," among many others. Prince died in Iceland at age 91. Jeff Lunden has this appreciation.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Hal Prince was always looking forward to the next show regardless of how the last one turned out. In 1965, composer John Kander was working on a show that Prince produced called "Flora, The Red Menace," and it was not going well.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JOHN KANDER: The show was not a success. And we met at Hal's apartment and started working on a piece, which eventually became "Cabaret."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "CABARET")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As emcee, singing) Willkommen and bienvenue, welcome.

LUNDEN: Prince was born in New York in 1928 and fell in love with the theater as a kid. He told me that as soon as he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, he approached Broadway producer and director George Abbott and asked for a job.

HAL PRINCE: I worked for nothing. That was my proposal. And he accepted it, and then he paid me after about six months.

LUNDEN: Prince learned not only his work ethic from George Abbott. He became a producer himself, and in 1954, he produced "The Pajama Game" and hired Abbott to direct it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "THE PAJAMA GAME")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Sid, singing) Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes.

LUNDEN: It was the beginning of a phenomenally successful career as a producer. Among Prince's other shows where "Damn Yankees," "West Side Story" and "Fiddler On The Roof."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "FIDDLER ON THE ROOF")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Tevye, singing) If I were a rich man (unintelligible) all day long I'd biddy-biddy bum if I were a wealthy man (ph).

LUNDEN: But Prince had other ambitions.

PRINCE: I wanted to be a playwright, which I couldn't do. And I wanted to be a director, which I could do.

LUNDEN: So Prince hired himself to direct shows like "Cabaret" and "Zorba." In 1970, he began a remarkable period of collaboration with composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

STEPHEN SONDHEIM: He always makes me want to go to the piano and write. I always leave meetings with Hal just bursting with ideas. Hal's as stimulating as anybody I've ever met.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "COMPANY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Robert, singing) Phone rings, door chimes, in comes company.

LUNDEN: Among their shows were "Company," "Follies" and "Sweeney Todd," which expanded and transformed musical theater. They were often referred to as concept musicals, serious works on serious topics - contemporary marriage, disillusion in the American dream, the corrosive nature of the Industrial Revolution.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "SWEENEY TODD")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As Sweeney Todd, singing) The history of the world, my sweet.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As Mrs. Lovett, singing) Oh, Mr. Todd, ooh, Mr. Todd, what does it tell?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As Sweeney Todd, singing) Is who gets eaten and who gets to eat.

LUNDEN: Prince's shows were always impeccably staged and designed, says another frequent collaborator, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: He is so visual. And when he gets something right visually, I mean, nobody gets it more right than him.

LUNDEN: They worked together on "Evita" and "The Phantom Of The Opera."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As the Phantom of the Opera, singing) Sing once again with me, a strange duet. My power over you grows stronger yet.

LUNDEN: "Phantom" is by far the biggest hit Hal Prince ever directed. It's the longest-running show in Broadway history. But Prince also had his share of flops. His wife Judy confronted him one day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PRINCE: She said, I'm sick to death of you talking about hits and flops. Do you not acknowledge that some of your greatest successes were flops at the box office and some of your biggest hits were not such damn successes artistically?

LUNDEN: Still, Prince acknowledged it wasn't enough to have talent or intellectual curiosity or an impeccable work ethic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PRINCE: There is not an artist in the world who achieves any success who hasn't had a lot of luck. You're lucky to be born when you are, where you are.

LUNDEN: And the American musical theater was lucky that Hal Prince helped to shape and define it.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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