At 90, Hal Prince Dishes on ‘Fiddler,’ ‘Cabaret’ and Reining In Ambition

At 90, Hal Prince Dishes on ‘Fiddler,’ ‘Cabaret’ and Reining In Ambition


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Front row from left, Hal Prince, Jan Horvath, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh celebrating Mr. Prince’s 90th birthday after a performance of “The Phantom of the Opera” earlier this month.

Credit
Jeremy Daniel

Hal Prince is turning 90 today.

The storied Broadway producer and director — a key player in everything from “Fiddler on the Roof” and “West Side Story” to “Sweeney Todd” and “The Phantom of the Opera” — has won 21 Tony Awards, more than anyone else in history.

To mark the occasion, he sat down with Jeffrey Seller, the lead producer of “Hamilton,” to discuss his career, and the resulting three-hour interview, “The Hal Prince Talks,” is being released in parts starting today on Sirius XM.

Here are six tidbits that caught our ears:

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Mr. Prince in his office at Rockefeller Plaza in 1972.

Credit
Jack Manning/The New York Times

1. No Times Square for him. Mr. Prince has worked in Rockefeller Center for 70 years, moving around the Art Deco complex. “I have never worked in any other office building,” he said. “I’m totally spoiled, because it’s the center of the universe.”

2. Setting the Stage. On Saturday afternoons as a child he would listen to broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera and stage them himself in a box at home. “I had a cardboard stage and some tin soldiers from the Five and Dime, and I’d listen to the plot and then move the soldiers around while they were singing on the stage of the Met,” he said. “Since they were always singing in a foreign language, which I didn’t speak, my first act would end sometimes before the first act at the Met, and sometimes they’d say ‘And the great golden curtain has just closed,’ and I was still in the middle of the first act.”

Julius Caesar – September 11, 1938 Orson Welles in “Julius Caesar”

3. The first musical he saw on Broadway? “White Horse Inn,” starring Kitty Carlisle, in 1936 or 1937; he grew up in New York, and his parents took him to the theater weekly. His first play? “Julius Caesar,” starring Orson Welles, around the same time. “What in hell my parents were doing, taking me to that, I don’t know. At the age of 8 or 9!”

4. Reining in ambition. At 14, he said, “I had a nervous breakdown — the ambition thing was so strong, and I don’t quite know why, but I do know I was talking to myself, walking in the park, and I knew I was getting into the fantasy of what my career would be too much.” He rebounded, but when he got his first job, with the famed producer George Abbott, “Everybody liked me, but they also seemed to back off a little when I came into a room.” Mr. Prince’s solution? “I took my desk calendar, and I wrote for one year, at the top of it, ‘Watch It!’ ” he said. “It helped me calm down a little.”

Zero Mostel ” If I Were a Rich Man ” Fiddler on the Roof “Fiddler on the Roof” at the 1965 Tony Awards

5. “That would be the sweetest thing of all.” The Broadway show that has paid over 3,000 percent to its initial investors? “Fiddler.” “That’s pretty amazing,” he said. “But ‘Phantom’ has exceeded that now.”

Cabaret – Two Ladies Video by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

6. The M.C. in “Cabaret” was his idea. His own experience serving in the Army in Stuttgart, Germany, inspired him to add the character to the 1966 musical, which he directed and produced. The musical was adapted from a Christopher Isherwood story, and became a movie in 1972. “I had hung out in a club called Maxim’s in the basement of a bombed-out church, and there was a little M.C. with lipstick and eye shadow and false eyelashes, and he’d tell terrible tacky jokes. And there were three very chunky girls in butterfly costumes dancing around him, and one drunk at the bar, and one drunk asleep at the table, and me in uniform, just thinking I’d been reborn and gone to heaven — this is it.”



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