Immersive Exploration Into Auteur’s Theatrical Career: In the Company of Hal Prince, Broadway Producer, Director, Collaborator

Broadway director Harold Prince receives the Golden Plate award from Nobel laureate (literature) Toni Morrison at the American Academy of Achievement’s 46th annual International Achievement Summit in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, June 23, 2007 / Courtesy of the Academy of Achievement and generously released into the public domain

“I was nine. I saw Orson Welles in ‘Julius Caesar.'” It was involving, emotional, imaginative. I’ve never forgotten it.” Hal Prince



For many many reasons, I’ve loved musical theatre almost from day one. Partly, of course, it’s just fun, but I’ve also always been intrigued by the collaborative nature of the medium. Naturally writers are included in that collaboration, perhaps a career aspiration for some readers here. After all, what is theatre about if not storytelling? As poets and writers, that’s what we’re about too. We love to read stories, write them, view them, listen to them. It’s a never-ending love affair and how wonderful it is that musical theater brings story together with song (poetry, if you will) and dance.

“Way way back: Music, poetry and dance came into the world together. Sometimes they get lonely for each other.” Joy Harjo during her Inaugural Reading as Poet Laureate of the United States

Few people have helped to define American musical theatre more than Hal Prince (1928-2019), who died this past July in Reykjavík. His plays include some of my all-time faves: West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Damn Yankees, Phantom of the Opera, and Zorba.

Hal Prince’s significant influence on Broadway stemmed from his reinvention of musical theatre from the script-and-score-based model to a more visual, almost cinematic art form in which the director is auteur. But it also stemmed from his appreciation for collaboration and his trusted collaborators, talented friends and colleagues who could help achieve his singular vision for a production.

Photo of Hal Prince by Van Williams. Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. copyright: NY Public Library

Now, in the interest of education, theatre history, homage, and the absolute shear pleasure of it, there’s a new free exhibition In The Company of Harold Prince: Broadway Producer, Director, Collaborator. Through the exhibition,The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts explores Prince’s creative trajectory and showcases the team of designers, stage managers, press agents, composers, and writers he assembled to create so many history-making shows. In The Company of Harold Prince is at the Library’s Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery and will be on display through March 31, 2020.

Curated by Doug Reside, the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Curator of the Library’s Billy Rose Theatre Division, the exhibition will display original costumes, set models, and archival video, and borrows from the aesthetic of immersive theatre, inviting visitors to pick up, examine and interact with reproductions of documents and objects from the Library’s unparalleled collections. Facsimiles of the paperwork for Pajama Game and Damn Yankees will be scattered over a recreation of Prince’s desk for visitors to look through. Digital recreations of stage manager Ruth Mitchell’s scripts will be linked to thousands of never-before-seen photographs from the Library’s collections. The exhibition will end with an open cabaret stage will allow visitors to perform songs from his shows or record their own stories about their experience with Prince’s theatrical work.

“I had the pleasure of getting to know Hal over the course of planning this exhibition,” said Reside. “Showing him initial designs and ideas about the direction of the exhibition was a thrill, as was hearing his stories about his career and the collaborators he so loved working with. We’d planned this exhibition believing that Hal would be here to enjoy it with us, and I’m so sad that that’s no longer the case. The whole Library mourns the loss of our friend, supporter, and legend, and we’re honored to celebrate his life and achievements through this exhibition.”

​A major highlight of ​​In The Company of Harold Prince is an area devoted to his collaborations with set designer​​ Boris Aronson. Aronson designed the sets behind some of Prince’s most iconic productions, and many of these models, often constructed by Aronson’s wife and design collaborator Lisa Jalowetz, have been recently restored and will be on view together for the first time public. Sets on display will include ​​Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, ​​Zorba​​, ​​Company, ​​Follies, ​​Pacific Overtures, ​and ​​A Little Night Music.

Other highlights from the exhibition include:

  • Recreation of Prince’s office with George Abbott in Rockefeller Center
  • Prince’s roulette wheel, which he kept in his office to illustrate that “theatre is a gamble”
  • Footage of Taganka Theatre’s production of Ten Days That Shook The World, which deeply influenced Prince’s aesthetic
  • Materials from the original production of Merrily We Roll Along, including cast newsletter, video of the original production, and the stage manager’s script
  • Patti LuPone’s Buenos Aires dress and wig worn during Don’t Cry For Me Argentina from the original Broadway production of Evita
  • Original costume designs by Patricia Zipprodt for Fiddler on the Roof, and Florence Klotz for Show Boat

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Library for the Performing Arts will also present a series of free public programs.

In the Company of Harold Prince Public Programs

GREAT PERFORMANCES

Harold Prince: The Director’s Life 

MON, OCT 21 | 6 pm

Advance registration required

Lonny Price and David Thompson discuss and screen their documentary film Harold Prince: The Director’s Life, which premiered on PBS GREAT PERFORMANCES in November 2018. In addition to archival clips, this fascinating performance-documentary includes interviews with many of Prince’s renowned collaborators, including Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mandy Patinkin, John Kander, Susan Stroman, Angela Lansbury and others, all sharing their firsthand insights into his pioneering achievements in the theater.

Yes, Mr. Prince: An Evening with Harold Prince’s Assistants

THURS, OCT 24 | 6 PM

Advance registration required

From 1960 to 1976, Annette Myers scheduled the appointments, transcribed the memos, and took down the messages, as her boss brought Cabaret, Company, Follies, and other legendary Prince productions to Broadway. For this special program, Meyers and other people who worked as Prince’s assistant step out of the office and onto the stage to share their untold stories and insights on the making of theatre history.

Harold Prince’s Library Jukebox

TUES, NOV 19 | 7 PM

Advance registration required

Join Thomas Z. Shepard, legendary record producer of dozens of Broadway’s most beloved cast albums, for an interactive sound salon of Harold Prince Broadway hits.  Choose your favorite show tunes from a menu of Prince musical numbers, listen to cast recordings, and marvel at rarely seen artifacts from the Library’s unrivaled theater collections, including Jerry Bock’s home recordings, Jerome Robbins’ choreography notes, Stephen Sondheim’s discarded drafts, memos, models, manuscripts, and more.

A Marriage of Two Modernisms: Boris Aronson and Lisa Jalowetz 

MON, DEC 19 | 6 PM

Advance registration required

The spinning, Chagall fantasy of Anatevka…The tarnished, mirror-topped Kit Kat Klub…the Erector-set skeleton of city life…Director Harold Prince and artist Boris Aronson used scenic design as theatrical narrative. Behind Aronson’s sets was a unique partnership with his wife Lisa, whose Viennese modernism complemented his Russian Constructivism. Cultural Historian Marc Aronson presents on the many layers of his parents’ work.

Parade Reunion

MON, JAN 13 | 6 PM

Advance registration required

In 1997, Broadway’s most famous and successful director, Harold Prince tapped the unknown composer Jason Robert Brown to write the score for perhaps the most challenging work he’d ever conceived: Parade, a complex musical tragedy about violence, anti-Semitism, and love through adversity. Brown and playwright Alfred Uhry reunite on the Library’s stage to celebrate Prince and share memories of Parade.

Harold Prince Birthday Party, Sing Along Show and Tell 

THURS, JAN 30 | 6 PM

Company, Follies, A Little Night Music… Phantom, Evita, Cabaret, Fiddler… Merrily! Sweeney! West Side! Oh my… Lend your voice to our Harold Prince celebration. Play games, win prizes, and sing along to live performances of beloved songs from Prince musicals.

Additional programs will be added through the duration of the exhibition. Please check nypl.org/lpa for updates.

All programs listed below are free and take place at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center located at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza. Programs are first-come, first-served unless otherwise noted. When indicated, advance registration can be handled online or in person at the Library’s Welcome Desk. Visit nypl.org/lpa for details.

This post is courtesy of the New York Public Library, Wikipedia and my (admittedly questionable at this point) memory.


Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

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