15 Bits of Hal Prince History You Never Knew—But Need To

Lists   15 Bits of Hal Prince History You Never Knew—But Need To
Throughout the course of his career, the veteran Broadway-producer has revealed little-known facts about some of Broadway’s most iconic musicals—and a few about himself.

Prince of Broadway, the musical retrospective celebrating the life and career of legendary Broadway producer-director Harold Prince, has finally arrived in New York—opening on August 24 at Broadway’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. The musical charts more than 60 years of musical theatre history, incorporating biographical material and songs from many of Princes groundbreaking musicals, including West Side Story, Cabaret, Company, Follies, Evita, Phantom, and more.

But there are some other bits of fascinating Broadway history that Prince has revealed over the years in interviews, biographies, and even in the recent release of his updated theatrical memoir Sense of Occasion.

Here are a few facts theatre fans may not know about Prince and his productions:

1. Stephen Sondheim was the best man at his wedding.

2. It was Sondheim who arranged for Prince to hear the score to A Family Affair—introducing him to composer John Kander, with whom he would later collaborate on Flora, The Red Menace; Cabaret; Zorba; and Kiss of the Spider Woman.

3. While Jerome Robbins still receives a majority of the credit for West Side Story, it was co-choreographer Peter Gennaro who created Chita Rivera’s show-stopping dances in “America” and other Shark sections of the musical.

Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

4. As of 2015, West Side Story returned 1,521 percent to its original Broadway investors.

5. It was Prince who suggested that John Kander and Fred Ebb collaborate as a musical theatre writing team for Flora, The Red Menace, though they had previously written one song together, “My Coloring Book.”

6. Flora, The Red Menace was written for Barbra Streisand, though Liza Minnelli ended up playing the role. (Streisand later recorded “A Quiet Thing” from the score.)

7. In 1958, Prince was the first artist to be invited to stage light entertainment in the East Room of the White House—a rich tradition that continued through the Obama administration. The evening included performances from The Pajama Game, The Music Man, West Side Story, and New Girl in Town.

8. Julie Andrews wanted to star as Amalia in the original Broadway production of She Loves Me, and asked Prince to wait six months until she was available. He didn’t, and instead cast Barbara Cook in the role.

Barbara Cook in <i>She Love Me</i>
Barbara Cook in She Love Me Friedman-Abeles/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

9. Several attempts were made to musicalize Cabaret before Prince was attached. Sandy Wilson, the British writer known for the musical confection The Boyfriend, wrote an early version to star Julie Andrews as Sally Bowles. Other treatments were presented as vehicles for Gwen Verdon and Tammy Grimes.

10. Kander and Ebb wanted Liza Minnelli to star as Sally Bowles in the original Broadway production of Cabaret, but Prince rejected the idea. Jill Haworth originated the role on Broadway and Minnelli later immortalized it on film.

11. In an early draft of Cabaret, Prince ended the production with footage of the march on Selma and the Little Rock riots in order to draw comparisons to what the creators saw as the “spiritual bankruptcy” of Germany in the 1920s and America in the 1960s.

Joel Grey with the cast of Cabaret
Joel Grey with the cast of Cabaret Friedman-Abeles / The New York Public Library

12. Prince originally postponed Cabaret’s Broadway arrival in 1965, feeling that the creative team had not yet solved key structural issues. He turned to work on It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman… instead. Within a year the team found the right approach to the musical, and Cabaret opened in the fall of 1966.

13. David Merrick originally approached Prince to direct Hello, Dolly! Prince turned him down.

14. During London technical rehearsals for The Phantom of the Opera, the chandelier was affectionately nicknamed “Ruthie” for Prince’s exacting assistant Ruth Mitchell. The name stuck, and all productions of Phantom since then have called the chandelier by that name.

15. Prince staged the entire original production of The Phantom of the Opera within four weeks of rehearsals (which ran from 10 AM-2 PM). The show has not changed since its first London preview on October 19, 1986.

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