May 27

An evening with Harold Prince

The name Harold (Hal) Prince is synonymous with Broadway, some even going so far as to proclaim him the prince of Broadway. I was extremely fortunate to be able to attend a lecture,given by him at my alma mater college, William Paterson University when they invited him on campus for their Distinguished Lecturer Series.

During the course of the evening Mr. Prince told stories about his beginnings with his first investor audition to mount ‘The Pajama Game’. He told the audience that the night (arranged by the first producer he ever worked for, a Mr, Abbott as he referred to him) began with Mr. Abbott getting up in front of the group and telling them it was about a strike at a pajama factory over a seven cent raise. He told the crowd you could feel the people in the room wanting to run for the door!

He spoke about his friendship with Stephen Sondheim and how both Sweeney Todd and West Side Story came together.

Speaking about Sweeny Todd, he was asked by the moderator about a song that the judge had in the show, that’s widely used when other theaters do the show. The song introduces the judge, and is called ‘Deliver Me’, I believe. In the song, he is asking for God’s forgiveness for whatever wrongs he’s performed while flogging himself in his bedroom.  When asked why it was removed from the show, Mr. Prince simply said it was his call to make, the song didn’t work, and it was removed after being seen on Broadway only one time.

He also told the story of how Michael Crawford became the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, telling the audience they had no Phantom, nor did they have anyone in mind for the role. Michael Crawford was known for his comedy over in London, but went in to audition for Andrew Lloyd Weber. To which point, Mr. Weber called Mr. Prince and told him that not only had he found a Phantom, but it was Michael Crawford and he had to get on a plane right now and hear Michael sing. Hal explained that when he got there, Mr. Crawford got about eight bars into the song, and he was hired!

He told everyone how different theater has become since he started.  He explained that he had raised $250,000 to mount as show when he first started, and explained that today that same show would cost $10 million!

Mr. Prince told everyone that theater isn’t put up today like it was back then. He explained that the day after a show opened, he would be gearing up for the next one. His point was, in today’s theater world, it takes at least five years to raise the money to even mount a show! He said whereas they were seeing their dreams to fruition while they were still in their 20s, he said people aren’t seeing their dreams on stage until they’re in their 50s. He said that wasn’t fair.

Throughout the evening students of the school sang excerpts of his work, to which he gave a standing ovation to a few of them! I would’ve fallen over!

He ended the night by talking about working on a new show, aiming for Broadway in the 2015 season, based on the movie “The Band’s Visit”.

The evening went one step further, with members of the audience asking questions, from everything to Cabaret’s emcee character to someone asking for an autograph, telling him she was in one of his shows in 1994.

Overall, I know I learned a lot. He told stories flawlessly, and although his speech was slow, he is still as sharp as a tack!

He is the prince of Broadway.


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