It was colorfully camouflaged as an awards presentation, so as not to throw him.
The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center presented Prince with its 10th annual Monte Cristo Award, and it should make a very nice punctuation for his 20 (!) Tony Awards.
As befits Broadway's most honored individual, it was a star-stacked affair: Lauren Bacall, Angela Lansbury, Linda Lavin, Sheldon Harnick, John McMartin and Charlotte Moore, Phyllis Newman, Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen, Ted Chapin, Charlotte St. Martin, Tony Ponturo, Michael Berresse, Tom Viertel, Nilo Cruz, Jordan Roth, Robert Lopez and Preston Whiteway.
Some of the stars in attendance wound up singing for their supper. Kate Baldwin, D'Jamin Bartlett, Laura Benanti, Michael Cerveris, John Cudia, Penny Fuller, Alex Gemignani and Cheyenne Jackson leafed through classic ditties from The Hal Prince Hit Parade (Cabaret, A Little Night Music, Lovemusik, The Pajama Game, The Phantom of the Opera, She Loves Me, West Side Story and Wonderful Town) in a floor show that reminded folks who and what was being celebrated. In between, Susan Stroman and Len Cariou sang their Princely praises as well. Then, four of the above broke into a little-soft-shoe rendition of "Old Friends" (retitled here "Hal Prince," with new lyrics), which sentimentally dovetailed into the actual award presentation that ended the evening.
It played like the octogenarian version of the first scene in Merrily We Roll Along. The 82-year-old Prince received the award from the friend he first met April 7, 1949 (61 years ago tomorrow), at the Broadway opening of South Pacific — Stephen Sondheim, that birthday-battered, newly minted octogenarian.
Ever the researcher, Sondheim phoned up Prince and asked about his proudest achievements. The proudest, in Sondheim's view, was the establishment of critics previews and the abolishment of opening-night notices when a show's fate hung by the frayed thread of a 45-minute review ("Only Walter Kerr could do it, anyway.").
"Then," Sondheim recalled, "I asked him if there was anything else he was proudest of, and he said, 'Us.'" The composer touched his heart and waved his old friend forth.