Prince died after a brief illness in Reykjavik, Iceland, his
Prince was famed for his dynamic collaborations with two
composers, American Stephen Sondheim and Briton Andrew Lloyd
Webber and had been a protege of legendary Broadway showman
Prince became a wunderkind producer in the 1950s with hits
including "West Side Story," the groundbreaking re-imagining of
Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."
He turned to directing in the 1960s with hits including
"Cabaret," set in decadent Berlin amid the rise of the Nazis,
for which he won the first of eight Tonys as best director.
He joined with Sondheim to create a series of sophisticated
musicals in the 1970s, then teamed with Lloyd Webber for the
blockbusters "Evita" and "The Phantom of the Opera," which
became the longest-running show in Broadway history.
"He's the best director of musicals around by far," Sondheim,
whose work with Prince included the 1970s musicals "Company,"
"Follies," "A Little Night Music," "Pacific Overtures" and
"Sweeney Todd," said in a 1984 interview with Prince biographer
"He has a more acute ear than most producers. He takes it
seriously and is more daring, imaginative and endlessly
creative. He likes to take chances," Sondheim said.
In 1979, Prince directed two huge hits that opened within months
of each other on Broadway.
In March, "Sweeney Todd" - the macabre tale of a murderous
barber set to Sondheim's music - made its debut. In September,
Prince brought "Evita" to New York from London, where it had
opened the previous year, telling the story of Eva Peron, the
magnetic wife of Argentine strongman Juan Peron, with Lloyd
Prince rebounded from a handful of 1980s misfires with his
biggest hit. "The Phantom of the Opera" - the story of a
disfigured musical genius obsessed with a young operatic soprano
- opened in London in 1986, then took Broadway by storm in 1988.
"There is not a single scene in the show that does not have a
surprise in it," Prince told Playbill in 2011 of "Phantom."
"Sometimes it's fire that you don't know is going to be there,
sometimes it's a voice, sometimes it's a piano playing by
itself, but there's always something. And sometimes it's a piece
of scenery almost falling on a diva," Prince said.
'I WOULDN'T HAVE A CAREER'
Prince, who sported a neatly trimmed white beard, balding head
and dark-rimmed glasses usually perched precariously high on his
forehead, hung a bulletin board in his Rockefeller Center office
in New York adorned with notes he wrote to himself. One seemed
to underscore his willingness to take risks: "I wouldn't have a
career if I'd taken a lot of advice."
He generally eschewed the time-tested Broadway practice of
casting stars to carry a musical. As a director, he pioneered
the "concept musical" with Sondheim, with shows presenting
themes in place of a narrative plot. "Follies," for example,
used a reunion of chorus girls to explore growing older.
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Prince was born in New York on Jan. 30, 1928. His parents
divorced when he was young and he was raised by his mother and
stepfather, a stockbroker. His family frequented the theater,
and he was dazzled at age 8 by a performance by Orson Welles.
"I really was interested in theater from the get-go and that's
very lucky ... I caught up with a few musicals but they always
struck me as kind of silly - which is why, I suppose, so few of
the musicals I've done have been appropriately silly," Prince
said in a 2007 interview with the Academy of Achievement.
After an Ivy League education at the University of Pennsylvania,
Prince landed a job as an assistant to Abbott but was drafted
into the U.S. Army in 1950 and sent to West Germany. He returned
to Abbott two years later.
Along with Robert Griffith, another Abbott assistant, Prince
decided to try his hand as a producer. At age 26, he opened "The
Pajama Game" in 1954. The peppy show about romance in a pajama
factory was a hit and won the Tony Award as best musical.
In 1955, they opened their second show, "Damn Yankees," a tale
of a baseball fan who sells his soul to the devil to help his
favorite team win. It also won a Tony as best musical.
Prince and Griffith produced 1957's "West Side Story," a love
story set among gangs in contemporary New York City and put to
music by Leonard Bernstein. It became one of the most
influential musicals in Broadway history.
Prince produced shows on his own after Griffith's death in 1961.
He had hits with two shows starring Zero Mostel. "A Funny Thing
Happened on the Way to the Forum," opening in 1962, was a
musical romp sent in ancient Rome. "Fiddler on the Roof," about
Jewish villagers in early 20th century Russia, opened in 1964
and became the longest-running show in Broadway history to date.
In 1966, he produced and directed "Cabaret," energized by a
leering, electric performance by Joel Grey. In 1993, he directed
"Kiss of the Spider Woman," featuring Chita Rivera, who had
appeared 36 years earlier in "West Side Story."
Prince also was in demand as an opera director. He twice
directed films, but neither "Something for Everyone" (1970) with
Angela Lansbury nor the film version of "A Little Night Music"
(1977) with Elizabeth Taylor became a success.
Prince was active well into his 80s including directing
Bernstein's "Candide" in 2017.
Prince is survived by his two children and his wife of 56 years,
Judith Chaplin, the daughter of composer Saul Chaplin.
(Reporting and writing by Will Dunham in Washington; Additional
reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Trott
and Matthew Lewis)
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