2019-07-31 16:04:59 UTC
Hal Prince, Giant of Broadway and Tony Award Collector, Dies at 91
By Bruce Weber
July 31, 2019
Hal Prince, the Broadway royal who was its most prolific Tony winner, the producer or director, or both, of many of the theater’s most enduring musicals, including “Damn Yankees,” “West Side Story,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Cabaret,” “Sweeney Todd” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” the longest-running show in Broadway history, died on Wednesday in Reykjavik, Iceland. He was 91.
The death was confirmed by a spokesman.
Mr. Prince began working in the theater in the halcyon days of Broadway, when Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein were its songwriting kings, the stage musical was a robust American art form (not to mention an affordable entertainment option) and theater songs were staples of the airwaves.
His contributions were prolific and persisted through challenging eras — when rock ‘n’ roll threatened to make show music irrelevant, when the decline of Times Square discouraged Broadway attendance, when the arrival of popular British musicals like “Phantom” pushed aside their American counterparts and when corporations like Disney entered the Broadway sweepstakes and miniaturized the impact of the independent producer.
Mr. Prince’s singularly significant role in shaping the Broadway musical during the second half of the 20th century was acknowledged by the Tony award for lifetime achievement he received in 2006.
That was his 21st Tony, a number far surpassing that of anyone else. The count began with the 1955 best musical, “The Pajama Game,” which Mr. Prince co-produced with Frederick Brisson and Robert E. Griffith. The total reached 20 in 1995 for his direction of an extravagant revival of “Show Boat,” the landmark 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein 2d from Edna Ferber’s novel about life on a Mississippi steamship.
Often considered the foundation of the modern musical for its character development and melding of score and story, “Show Boat” was a fitting valedictory – though not quite his final show — for a man who helped expand the possibilities of narrative in the musical theater form.
Mr. Prince was known, especially in the first decades of his theater life, as a fiendish workaholic; at one point in 1960, three shows that he produced were appearing on Broadway at the same time.
And he was known, throughout his career, for his collaborations with a murderer’s row of creative talents, among them the choreographers Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Michael Bennett and Susan Stroman, the designers Eugene Lee, Patricia Zipprodt and Florence Klotz, and the composers Leonard Bernstein, John Kander, Stephen Sondheim, who was his most frequent confederate, and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Mr. Lloyd Webber, was, with their work together on “Evita” about the opportunistic Argentine populist Eva Peron, and on “The Phantom of the Opera,” which Mr. Prince directed in London and on Broadway, his most profit-generating collaborator.
A complete version of this obituary will appear shortly.
Michael Paulson contributed reporting.
© 2019 The New York Times Company