To memorialize Hal Prince is to tackle a near insurmountable task. But Broadway gathered December 16 at the Majestic Theatre, home to the director’s The Phantom of the Opera, to celebrate the thoroughly lived life and unparalleled career of the 21-time Tony Award-winning director and producer.
Filled with Broadway giants (everyone from Stephen Sondheim to Bernadette Peters, Lin-Manuel Miranda to Carol Burnett), the house contained the most influential makers of theatre—still, they dwarf in comparison to Prince. As director Thomas Kail said in his remarks, “My Directing Mount Rushmore was essentially your face four times...”
For those who couldn’t be there, Playbill chronicles what you missed:
Prince of Broadway Overture
Conducted by Jason Robert Brown, the orchestra for the day kicked off the matinee tribute with the overture from Prince’s Broadway career retrospective Prince of Broadway. (Fred Lassen, Prince of Broadway musical director later conducts a few tunes.) As astounding as when it initially hit the stage of the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 19 songs woven together by Brown referenced highlights of Prince’s career while select show logos flashed across the screen and we all began to take stock of Prince’s vast oeuvre.
Joel Grey Welcomes Us
After a video tribute from contemporaries like Susan Stroman, Frank Rich, and more, the Cabaret vamp begins and Tony and Oscar winner Joel Grey waddles out in the spotlight with his cane. He sings “Wilkommen” and it’s suddenly 1966. Spry and mischievous as ever, Grey finishes the song by pointing his cane in the air and looking up to the heavens on the button—a final thank-you to his director.
Stephen Sondheim Has the First Word
Prince’s most called-upon partner, Stephen Sondheim was the first to address the audience directly, noting that today is a day for celebration, not mourning. “Mourning is private, or at least it should be,” he noted. Sondheim was not only Prince’s collaborator, he was his best friend and best man at his wedding. The composer-lyricist remembers Prince’s wedding to his wife, Judy. Hal called saying he was nervous and could Sondheim meet him outside his future mother-in-law’s apartment door so they could walk in together (the ceremony was an intimate one of a dozen or so people in Judy’s mother’s home). “The elevator came up and Hal emerged excited and scared and carrying a script,” Sondheim recalled. “I gently slipped it out of his hand and said let me take care of this and we walked into the apartment together and he got married for 57 years.” After all, “There’s two things that mattered most to Hal in the world: his family and putting on shows.”
Michael Cerveris sings Follies
After a video on the design and making of Follies, the Tony Award winner offered up a performance of “The Road You Didn’t Take.” Prince had said himself, it was the character of Benjamin Stone (originated by John McMartin) that he always related most to.
Alfred Uhry Writes the Final Prince Scene
Prince’s collaborator on Parade, Uhry speaks about his meetings with Prince—over egg salad and tuna fish sandwiches. He recalls one meeting, which wasn’t about a particular project, when (out of simple curiosity) Prince asked Uhry what it was like growing up in Atlanta in the ’40s and ’50s—what it was like being Jewish there. Uhry brought up the history of Leo Frank. Prince put his glasses atop his head and said, “That’s a musical.” “Lately, I’ve been thinking about the meeting, of course, that we could never have about The Big Exit. The Final Exit,” Uhry says. And then he imagined their back-and-forth, writing Prince’s last scene in life. “It would be something, maybe a plane trip. Yeah, but transatlantic. But not just straight transatlantic, gotta land somewhere—maybe refuel. That’s good, [Hal would say]. Not just that, they get down there and there’s something wrong with the plane. Then for the big ending we’re going to have to go somewhere new, get a new scene, and then the next day on the front page of the New York Times it’s going to say, ‘Hal Prince Legendary Broadway Figure Dies in Helsinki.’ And a lot of people around the world are going to say, ‘What the hell was Hal Prince doing in Helsinki?’ At that point, he puts his glasses on top of his head and says, ‘Yeah. That’ll work.’”
Tony Yazbeck and Carolee Carmello Declare “This Is Not Over Yet”
With Parade composer-lyricist leading the orchestra, Yazbeck sings Leo Frank's triumphant song from the Tony-winning musical. And then the original Lucille Frank, Carolee Carmello, joins him onstage for a powerful climax.
Carol Burnett Talks to Her “Bro”
In their later years, Burnett and Prince began referring to each other as bro and sis. “Boy how I miss him,” Burnett begins. She tells the story of Hollywood Arms, the play that she and her daughter Carrie Hamilton wrote rooted in one of Burnett’s memoirs. In 2001, Burnett and Hamilton submitted the play to the Sundance Festival and were accepted. Burnett sent the script to Prince, looking for his suggestion for a young director when Prince asked if it would be OK if he directed it. “Would we be OK?!” Burnett laughs. The road was a hard one for Burnett; while working on the play, Hamilton was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 2002. “He helped me overcome the enormity of my loss with his undying enthusiasm for our project,” Burnett says. “All I could think was my baby and I went the distance and it was all because of Hal.” She finishes by quoting a review of Hollywood Arms from its Broadway bow, written by John Simon: “Hollywood Arms has yet another form of invaluable affection, that of Hal Prince for the characters and their story. You will never see more feelingful insight, more self-effacing love for their quirks, foibles, and kindnesses from a director and his stage children big and small.”
A Look Back at Evita
As the video begins, we see Prince and a young, curly-haired Mandy Patinkin alongside a young, fresh-faced Patti LuPone deep in discussion during Evita rehearsals. Reflecting on the production, Patinkin remembers when Prince asked him if he was scared; he admitted he was. “He took me aside and said, ‘I get scared, too,’” Patinkin marvels. “It makes you realize that in those of us who we can never imagine them being afraid, they too must have a seed somewhere deep down that builds up that confidence that armor against the fear of anything. That those fears within us, that what makes you work so damn hard. That’s what makes you want to make something no one has ever seen before.”
Janet Dacal Revives Her Prince of Broadway Performance
A member of the cast of 2017’s Prince of Broadway, Dacal reprised her performance of “Buenos Aires” from Evita with all the moves to go with it.
Andrew Lloyd Webber Shares Lessons From Prince
Lloyd Webber and Prince’s first collaboration was Evita, but, as Lloyd Webber reveals, Prince had been interested in Jesus Christ Superstar. But a misdirected telegram meant the rights were scooped up by the time Prince’s message got to the composer. Still, as we learn throughout the tribute, Prince had an eye for talent and a talent for relationships. Theirs is one that flourished, and they eventually decided to step outside the box together and write a high romance: The Phantom of the Opera, Broadway’s longest-running musical in history. Before leaving the stage, Lloyd Webber shares one of the greatest lessons he learned from Prince: “You can’t listen to a musical if you can’t look at it.”
Jay Armstrong Johnson and Meghan Picerno Sing “All I Ask Of You”
Broadway’s recent Raoul and current Christine grace the Majestic stage to sing the emblematic song of the high romance.
Laura Linney Honors a Different Side of Prince
Though Linney is a Tony Award-nominated actor in her own right, her memories of Prince are not as a director, but as the father to her best friends. Linney grew up with Daisy and Charlie Prince, and attended undergrad with Daisy. “His love for his family was so monumental, it was so vast, it overflowed and poured onto us,” Linney remembers. She honors the example that he set for all of them: “Of all the parents that I knew in my life it was the busiest father, it was the most successful man who must have been juggling more than I could ever know who always seemed to have the most time and care to give to the friends of his children—and there are a lot of us,” Linney laughs. “Both he and Judy took an invested interest in our well-being, made us feel as though we were worthy of his time. He mentored us. He put an invisible hand on our back and he cheered us on.”
Thomas Kail Thanks a Mentor
It should come as no surprise that the risk-taking director behind Hamilton, Freestyle Love Supreme, Lombardi, and In The Heights emerged from under the wing of Prince. Kail shares the story of their first meeting, his nerves and awe. He remembers quoting Prince to Prince, reciting a passage from an unpublished memoir about tech rehearsal in which Prince says, “It is days like this when I feel I will live forever and it is opening nights that I remember that eventually I will die.” Kail explains how much this quote means to him, how much it resonates with truth. “You cocked your head to the side, you looked at me for another moment and said ‘Really? Huh, don’t remember saying that.’” Kail ends his remarks with a promise: “I’ll keep standing on your shoulders. I’ll keep trying.”
Bryonha Marie Parham Brings Down the House With “Cabaret”
After a video exploring the origins of Cabaret, another alum of Prince of Broadway, Parham, raises the rafters with her belt and her no-holds-barred performance of the title song from the musical.
Prince Reflects on His Career
In the final video of the afternoon, Prince lights up the screen. In his reminiscence about his own career, he considers the changing landscape of theatre at large. He says, “I live in the future. I’m totally mindful that nobody will ever have the life I’ve had in the theatre. That’s past. And that’s damn sad.”
The Original Cast of Merrily We Roll Along Sings “Old Friend”
Jim Walton, Ann Morrison, and Lonny Price—the original Franklin Shepard, Mary Flynn, and Charley Kringas—offer the most touching performance of the day. They are the ones who were there, now singing to their old friend.
Jason Robert Brown Calls Us to Action
Trembling with emotion, Brown took the mic for the final remarks to Prince. “The only reason anyone in this room knows who I am is because Hal Prince scooped me up and said, ‘This is where you belong.’ He didn’t wait for anyone to confirm that opinion. He just said, 'You. Now.'" He notes that Prince often called upon actors, designers, choreographers, writers, conductors to join his team again and again. “That wasn’t a matter of convenience or comfort,” says Brown. “Some people just sparked him. … He would reach out to those people again and again because of what they sparked in him. … Are we all just pinching ourselves all the time that … somehow Hal Prince wants us to inspire him and spark him when he has done so much to spark and inspire us?” Prince chose to mentor; he chose to elevate. He took risks. He always looked ahead. He called on the future generation to keep doing the work. “And since he’s not here to do it anymore, we’re all going to stand here and say it for him: ‘The theatre needs you. You have something to say. You belong here. You. Now.’”
A Company of Broadway Stars Sings From Merrily
The stage fills with talents—Brian Stokes Mitchell, Andréa Burns, Norm Lewis, Billy Porter, Jessica Molaskey, Brooks Ashmanskas, Georgia Stitt, Richard Kind, and dozens more—to sing “Our Time.”
The Final Bow
As “Our Time” fades out, Grey steps through the crowd singing, “Auf wiedersehen… A bientot…” And as the snare rolled, just as in the finale of Cabaret, the crowd turned upstage; the cymbals crashed and there is Hal Prince looking over us all, who stood for a final four-minute-long ovation. There will never be enough applause.