Prince of Broadway Stars Share Their Favorite Hal Prince Shows
Emily Skinner, Chuck Cooper, and more discuss the works that left an impact on their lives, from Sweeney Todd to West Side Story.
Over the course of his 67-year-career on Broadway, Harold Prince has been associated with a lot of now-legendary shows. As producer, he's responsible for shepherding the likes of West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof. As director, he staged the original productions of Cabaret, Company, Evita, Sweeney Todd, and The Phantom of the Opera. He's amassed an astonishing 21 Tony Awards for his work (eight for directing, eight for producing, two for Best Musical, and three special awards). Prince's career is the subject of the new musical retrospective Prince of Broadway, now receiving its long-awaited New York premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. To celebrate Prince's latest show, we quizzed the nine cast members on what their first Harold Prince musical was, and what about it has lived on in their minds ever since.
My first Hal Prince show experience was hearing the cast album of Sweeney Todd when I was around 8 years old, and that terrifying whistle scaring me to the point that I think I actually had some nightmares. A few years later I actually got to see the full production and it blew my little mind. I do believe it is a masterpiece.
I first listened to the music of West Side Story when I was 5 or 6. I will never forget feeling something overwhelmingly spiritual about it. I think my first thoughts and feelings on romance and true love between two people came from West Side Story. It's no wonder it remains my favorite musical of all time.
As a young ballet dancer I traveled to N.Y.C. one summer to study at the American Ballet Theatre and Joffrey Schools. During our excursion my ballet teacher from home had offered us the chance to attend one Broadway musical. I chose A Little Night Music (I loved the title). I remember as a teenager it being witty, titillating, and mature throughout; also as the lights came up on the stage and I viewed the beautiful expanse of green lawn, I felt I could actually smell fresh grass...it was that visceral to me.
Bryonha Marie Parham
My first Hal Prince show that I ever listened to was Cabaret. I fell in love. I loved the darkness and humor in the whole show. I wanted to be Sally Bowles so badly. There was an amusement park in Kansas City called Worlds of Fun, and I auditioned to be in the Broadway medley with the song "Cabaret" at 15. I didn't book it. But this is why getting to sing "Cabaret" on Broadway every night is the biggest thrill for me. Full circle!
When I was 10 years old, my dad had a laser disk (not a V.H.S., not a D.V.D. — a laser disk) of the making of the Company original Broadway cast album. And I remember seeing Hal giving notes to Elaine Stritch with Stephen Sondheim, and I'll never forget it.
Kaley Ann Voorhees
The first time that I ever really met and talked to Hal Prince was right after I had gotten the job at Phantom, and I had just finished writing a report on him two weeks before, because I was going into my junior year of college and I was getting a jump on some of my homework. So I wrote this big essay on him when I met him a few weeks after I finished. It was surreal. I told him, "I just finished a report on you." He thought it was the funniest thing.
The first Hal Prince show that I saw that made an impression was West Side Story, simply because it was the first time I saw someone like myself onstage.
My first experience of a Hal Prince show was at the age of 15 when I saw his production of The Phantom of the Opera in the U.K. I was bowled over with how inventive the staging was and how he created an underground world complete with a river on a solid stage! Genius! I was also amazed at how much I cared for the fate of the characters who were singing at each other!
Sometimes Hal comes into our dressing room and Tony Yazbeck and I have him all to ourselves. In these delightful moments, I become keenly aware that I am having a private audience with a man whose stunning achievements will never be equaled. My gratitude for his invitation to participate in this project would overwhelm me if not for the many wonderful stories he shares and laughter they generate. But most notably he is consistently ever so effusive about how important it is to him to work with artists like us. This is high praise indeed, and I know it makes my ancestors smile.