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


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 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 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, 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 for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications Poets Advocate for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019

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

FOR THEATRE LOVERS (and what poet isn’t?): Innovative Berkeley (CA) theatre seeks volunteers

LIVE OAK THEATRE in Berkeley was recently featured by Oakland Magazine as Editor’s Choice for Best Theatrical Turnaround . Kudos to the new management, TheatreFIRST.

With TheatreFIRST came a notable shift focusing on commissioned work and creative teams comprised predominantly of women and people of color.

The current season, which began on the 15th, promises to be exciting and innovating with:

  • The Farm (currently playing), a song-poem-beat-opera adaption of George Orwell’s Animal Farm;
  • Participants (opens December 3) is a theatrical exploration that delves into how we individually and communally act in times of social and political unrest. The audience, sitting in a circle and led by a central emcee, will witness twelve new works that aim to incite community discussion.
  • Between Us (opens on February 18, 2018), which  invites you to meet a leader of the Delano Grape Strike, A woman attending her first protest, a voodoo queen, the Uruguayan woman who will fight her government to get justice for her murdered sister, a black woman contemplating the first MLK day, a U.S. general who foils a coup on Roosevelt, a queer icon for the ages, and one of the woman who led the redress movement for the over 100,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII; and
  • Waarika (opens May 6, 2018) by Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko.
With their first show of the 2017-18 season, The Farm, TheatreFIRST seeks volunteer help: ushers and people to handle light concessions.
If you’re interested in volunteering, please sign up HERE.
“Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich; But theatre will make you good.”  Terrence Mann

 Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA

Photograph: Gargoyles as theatrical masks above a water basin. Mosaic, Roman artwork, 2nd century CE. The piece can be found at the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Palazzo dei Conservatori, first floor, hall of the Horti of Mæcenas. From the Baths of Decius on the Aventine Hill, Rome.


CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (28): Emily Dickinson … to find that phosphorescence, that light within

Emily Dickinson at sixteen years o age
Emily Dickinson at sixteen years, 1846

“PHOSPHORESCENCE. Now there’s a word to lift your hat to… to find that phosphorescence, that light within, that’s the genius behind poetry.” Emily Dickinson

41rt1zipr5l-_sx319_bo1204203200_Emily Dickinson was famously reclusive and wrote 1,775 poems, few of which were published during her lifetime. When her opus was finally published posthumously, it wasn’t well received. Today, however, she is considered one of the most significant of American poets. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson is my favorite collection. The poems are organized chronologically, allowing us to see her development from teen years into the darker poetry of her maturity.

“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

– Emily Dickinson

Apart from reading Emily Dickinson’s poetry, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate her and her work then to see William Luce’s one-woman play, The Belle of Amherst, starring Julie Harris.  It’s available to watch on YouTube and it’s a must if you are a lover of poetry and theatre and looking for some budget-wise charm this coming weekend. Order dinner in, set out the candles and wine … and Enjoy!

The play follows Emily Dickinson at the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts. It incorporates Dickinson’s work, diaries, and letters in a reenactment of her life with her relatives, friends and acquaintances. It’s engaging and often wry … as is the poet herself.

The original Broadway production, directed by Charles Nelson Reilly and starring Julie Harris, opened on April 28, 1976 at the Longacre Theatre. It ran for 116 performances. A Wall Street Journal reviewer wrote . . .

“With her technical ability and her emotional range, Miss Harris can convey profound inner turmoil at the same time that she displays irrepressible gaiety of spirit.”

Harris won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for a Unique Theatrical Experience, and won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording. She appeared in a televised PBS production and toured the country with the play for a number of years. [sources: Wikipedia and NY Times]

Luce and Harris collaborated on other wonderful plays including Bronté.  A broadway playwright, Luce also wrote Barrymore, which with family I was fortunate enough to see on stage starring Christopher Plummer many years ago. That was a bit of heaven.  Luce wrote Lucifer’s Child based on the writing of Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Lillian about Lillian Hellman and Zelda, which became The Last Flapperabout Zelda Fitzgerald. If script writing is one of your interests, you could probably do worse than reading a few of  Luce’s plays.


The recommended read for this week is Robert Pinsky’s Singing School, Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry. No rules or recipes here just learning by studying the pros. Charming. Fun.

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