In nearly every show that Harold Prince has directed, there is what he calls “the metaphor,” the central theme or idea on which the story rests. He doesn’t always start the process of a show with this it in mind—in fact, he seldom does—but once he finds it, it becomes his roadmap, leading him through the show’s development and onward to its opening. Prince, who is 88, can still recall with ease the metaphors from musicals he directed decades ago. For instance, Evita: Images misrepresent the true character of a person; Sweeney Todd: A vengeful society grew out of the Industrial Age.
Directing was his singular aspiration all along, but he built his credentials by producing such ambitious, profit-making musicals as West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof, both directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. In retrospect, Prince acknowledges that luck had a lot to do with his ascent—though he quickly adds that he worked incessantly, indefatigably, and fervently to meet those auspicious circumstances. As a rising director, Prince found an avenue to create musicals that addressed serious, often political subject matter, from Cabaret to Parade; he also showed a flair for old-fashioned showmanship with the still-running megahit Phantom of the Opera.
At his desk chair, positioned before a wall of theatre books (the only wall not devoted to photos), Prince semi-reclines, glasses perched above his forehead in their signature way, and holds forth about the state of the theatre. The state of producing still matters greatly to him, and he is unyieldingly emphatic that today’s producers must be more creative, daring—artists, not just businesspeople. Not one rest on old successes, Prince prefers to be at work on something new; he happily shares details about the new musical he’s developing with ongoing collaborator Susan Stroman, an amalgam of his hit Broadway shows, aptly named Prince of Broadway.
Read the full interview with director/producer Hal Prince at American Theatre
photo credit: courtesy of Hal Prince.