The Prince of Old Broadway
Tallying up some amazing figures on Hal Prince, the legendary Broadway producer-director who is still going strong.
Stopped by the Majestic stage door to drop off a package for my buddy Craig Jacobs, the production stage manager for The Phantom of the Opera, and found that he was conducting an understudy rehearsal. Not only did I find that John Wasiniak, Melody Rubie, and Aaron Lazar were sensational--anyone who sees any of them needn't worry that he's been shortchanged--but I was so impressed at the way that Craig beautifully handled these performers, calmly and gently but firmly giving them direction. I thought, "Hal Prince would be proud."
Then my thoughts turned to Prince, who, 48 years after his first producing credit on Broadway with The Pajama Game, still has his name in a Broadway program. Then again, hasn't he always, ever since that Adler and Ross hit opened on May 13, 1954? Well, "always" is a strong word--but I bet myself that there hadn't been too many days since 1954 when Harold S. Prince hasn't had his name in at least one Broadway program at any given time as producer, director, or both. And as soon as I got home, I did some research to see just how many days Harold Prince hasn't been on a Broadway program. To quote a line from one of his productions: "Damn few."
The Pajama Game was still running when Damn Yankees opened, which was still running when New Girl in Town debuted, which was still going strong when West Side Story opened. Not until that classic closed on June 27, 1959 was Prince's name absent from a Broadway program. That dry spell would last a mere 148 days, until Fiorello! debuted on November 23, 1959. While it ran, other Prince productions--Tenderloin and A Call on Kuprin (the latter is a rare dramatic work in his canon)--opened and closed. True, when Fiorello! shuttered on October 28, 1961, Prince was again not represented for all of 53 days: Take Her, She's Mine opened on December 21, 1961, and was still running when A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opened on May 8, 1962.
For all of these except Forum, Prince was a co-producer with one of his mentors, Robert Griffith; Forum he produced alone. Just before that show, he took over the direction of A Family Affair and, during Forum's run, he both produced and staged She Loves Me and started thinking more and more about directing. By the time Forum closed on August 29, 1964, Prince had completed a pretty successful decade on Broadway. Taking May 12, 1964 as his official 10th anniversary, Prince was not listed on a Broadway program for only 227 days out of a possible 3,652. His average, then, was 93.79%. That's an "A" where I went to school.
Incredibly, though, he would do better still the following decade. Sure, there was a mini-drought of 26 Princeless days between Forum's closing and the opening of Fiddler on the Roof (which he produced but didn't direct). But Fiddler would set a Broadway long-run record that remained in place for a quarter-century. The show lasted till July 2, 1972, its run having spanned the years which included the openings of Prince's Baker Street (which he only staged), Poor Bitos, and Flora, the Red Menace, not to mention his produced-and-directed shows: It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's...Superman, Cabaret, Zorba, Company, and Follies. The last named show closed one day earlier than Fiddler. (What a poignant weekend that must have been at the Prince office!)
Even with all those shows closed, Prince still did continue to keep his name current on Broadway, even though it was through a production on which he had no real participation: Until August 12, 1972, a revival of Forum was running, which said on the title page of its program, "Originally produced on Broadway by Harold Prince." After the Forum revival shuttered, 114 days passed until Prince, as director, debuted a revival of Eugene O'Neill's The Great God Brown on December 5, 1972. While it only played till Jan. 13, 1973, a mere 42 days would pass before Prince opened another long-run hit on February 25, 1973: A Little Night Music
That show was still running when Prince staged The Visit and directed and produced Candide. And it was still running when Pacific Overtures opened on January 11, 1975. So, during Prince's second decade, which officially ended on May 12, 1974, his name wasn't in a Broadway program for only 183 days out of 3,651, for a score of 94.99% That might have even been an "A+" where I went to school.
Okay, he couldn't keep up that pace during the next decade, but Broadway in the late '70s-early '80s wasn't enjoying a golden era. After Pacific Overtures closed on June 27, 1976, Prince's name wasn't seen in a Broadway program for 183 days, after which a revival of Fiddler on the Roof had to admit it was "originally produced on Broadway by Harold Prince." It was still running when Side by Side by Sondheim opened, which was still running when On the Twentieth Century debuted, which was still on when Sweeney Todd bowed, which was still performing when Evita opened. That mega-hit wouldn't close until June 25, 1983. (By the way, during this span, Prince got his most unexpected credit: He provided a voice-over in The Mooney Shapiro Songbook, which opened and closed on May 3, 1981.)
During Evita's run, there was the difficult period of Merrily We Roll Along and A Doll's Life. After Evita closed, there were more hard times: an unprecedented 305 Prince-less days until Play Memory opened on April 26, 1984. It closes only three days later, and Prince's name was absent from Broadway again for 16 more days. He celebrated the end of his third decade on May 12, 1984, having missed 504 days out of a possible 3,653 for a score of 86.2%. That's only a 'B' but during that time frame, wouldn't you have given Broadway itself a lower grade?
For a while there, it got worse: 339 more days would pass until Grind opened on April 16, 1985. It was gone by June 22. Prince would endure a whopping 860 days before his next show, Roza, opened on November 1, 1987. It closed 10 days later. Thank the Lord that a revival of Cabaret had opened on October 22, 1987, to at least keep the name out there. Of course that would no longer be a problem once The Phantom of the Opera opened on January 26, 1988.
So, when Prince's fourth decade ended on May 12, 1994, he'd missed 1,190 days out of the usual 3,652, taking him into 'D'-eep territory at 67.41%. But he hasn't had to worry since then. And it's not as if Phantom was his only hit in the '90s; don't forget Kiss of the Spider Woman or that Show Boat revival. But given that Phantom hasn't even resorted to TKTS yet, there's a very good chance that it will still be running on May 12, 2004, at the end of Prince's fifth decade. Which means that, out of 18,263 days, Prince will have been represented for 16,159 of them, for a score of 88.48%. But considering that I've only used opening dates for starting points and haven't included all the days that his shows have previewed, I'll bet that Hal Prince's name will have been in a Broadway program at least 90% of the time since May 13, 1954.
Who has a higher percentage? George Abbott? I don't think so, for while his career spanned many more than 50 years, it was in a time when runs were shorter. Cameron Mackintosh? Granted, he's been with us 100% of the time since Cats opened almost 20 years ago (thanks in large part to Les Miz), but let's see how he's doing in 2030, 48 years after he produced his first Broadway show.