Broadway Great Hal Prince Dies At 91, ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ And ‘Evita’ Director Passed Away In Iceland

Hal Prince addresses the Lincoln Center Hall Of Fame Gala
Bryan Bedder / Lincoln Center

Harold “Hal” Prince, the adored prince of Broadway musical theater, passed away on July 31 in Reykjavik, Iceland. The prolific director and producer who shined on the Great White Way was 91.

Prince arguably changed the face of American pop theater. His resume is prolific, per IMDb.

His contributions began in 1951 when he assistant stage managed Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam. In 1953, he worked on Wonderful Town.

After that, the Broadway baby became a producer. He took on West Side Story (1960), directed by George Abbott, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962) with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and Fiddler on the Roof (1964) starring Zero Mostel.

Then, Prince moved on to directing.

Many of his hits were huge, like Sweeny Todd, Cabaret, Company, A Little Night Music, Evita, and Phantom of the Opera.

For his work in the musical theater, Prince was rewarded with a whopping 21 Tony awards. One, in 2006, was a lifetime achievement award that proved this creative genius had met his calling.

Known for his many collaborations as director-producer with composer-lyrist Stephen Sondheim, including Pacific Overtures and Candide, the New Yorker found his love for Broadway theater after offering to go without pay if he could work for Broadway’s George Abbott.

Prince was quoted on IMDb regarding thoughts about his mentor.

“He was the master of American farce comedy, but there is never a dishonest moment on the stage. He never slammed a door for the sake of slamming a door; he slammed it for a reason, There’s so much phony energy in the theatre. People think that by running around in circles like a crazed tiger you’re displaying energy. And in fact you’re not. You can have energy in the stillest place in the world, and he knew that.”

Prince said in an interview with A&E as included in Harold Prince: A Director’s Journey by Carol Ilson, “He really unabashedly wants people to have a good time, and sometimes I don’t give a damn. I want to stimulate them, but I don’t care so much. He thinks a good show is one that runs a long time. I couldn’t disagree more.”

He went on to admit that even though the two disagreed on many salient points, in the end, both figures enjoyed their regular sparring, finding that aspect of their relationship “stimulating.”

Meanwhile, Prince paid homage to Jerry Robbins, saying that he was the first to hold a table reading for every musical before rehearsals began.

As a director of memorable stage productions, Prince’s trademarks were obvious, stated The Guardian.

“Revolving sets [achieved] cinematic flow and often presented characters as products of their environments. Pacific Overtures (1976) was full of Asian pageantry; the denizens of Sweeney Todd (1979) were dwarfed by industrial girders.”

Phantom of the Opera opened on London’s West End in 1986 after Prince endured a string of flops. At that point, he took a year off before mounting what The Guardian stated was his “most successful show,” even with its flaws.

Phantom’s.. plot and characters are archetypes of limited dimension. The storytelling is traditional and linear, which explains why such a popular show received mixed reviews.”

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Obviously, Prince did not live by reviews alone. He was always in touch with how he wanted his work to shine, audience or no audience.

Broadway legend Hal Prince is survived by his wife, Judith Chaplin. He will be missed, especially by the musical theater-going masses.