In 2013 Harold Hal Prince, the multiple Tony Award–winning producer and director who passed away July 31, was celebrating the 25th Broadway anniversary of his Tony-winning production of The Phantom of the Opera, which continues at the Majestic Theatre. At that time we asked the Broadway legend to share the Broadway performances that most affected him as part of the audience.
“These are 10 choice productions that I remember vividly," Prince told Playbill at the time. “However, there are ’tens’ of other productions I admire just as much, maybe more, or maybe almost as much.”
Orson Welles' modern-dress production was produced by the Mercury Theatre, and I saw it when I was nine years old. It was both monumental and minimalist.
Moby Dick – Rehearsed
Another minimalist production by Welles (pictured), which I saw at the Duke of York's Theatre in London. It was indescribably imaginative and moving.
Both the original in 1935 and the revival in 1942 were brilliantly realized musically and in performance. They both starred Todd Duncan and Anne Brown, but later in the revival's run, Etta Moten, who the Gershwins originally wrote the opera for, brilliantly replaced Anne Brown.
I saw the original production five times in its first two weeks. I've always been staggered by O'Neill, and this production was perfect.
I was lucky to attend the opening night at the Majestic, and it was epic in every respect. Not only were the performances pluperfect, but so was the staging. It was the first and most successful use of continuous action in a musical. Up until that time, we expected utility music from the orchestra pit to play while the scene changes were made. It was a convention, and South Pacific changed all that.
The first collaboration of Rodgers, Hart, and George Abbott (his first musical directorial assignment). I saw it in the old Hippodrome as a child. It was an environmental production, taking place in a circus ring, and it began with Paul Whiteman on a white horse and his entire orchestra following him, playing the overture. It was a kid's dream.
It was as innovative and glamorous an evening as I've ever witnessed in the theatre. The performances were charming and bold and the subject (psychoanalysis) was unique.
It was daring and brilliantly successful. The first time I had seen Bernstein and Robbins collaborate was On the Town, which I loved. But West Side Story was a watershed experience—not just for its creators, but for the theatre.
It was groundbreaking. We ignored a lot of the prevailing rules and told the story in a form unlike any previous musical, which set the stage for many similarly-structured shows.
Finally, of course, I must mention The Phantom of the Opera. After all, it's celebrating 25 years on Broadway and still going strong.