“I like heightened theatre,” says director-producer Harold Prince. “I’m into ideas. I’m into settings, venues. I’m into conflict. I have a political mind, I think. And so it permeates.”
Indeed, it has permeated his six decades of work and 65 Broadway productions. Many think of spectacle when they think of Prince, but his shows ran the gamut from opulence to simplicity—more often than not the audience filling in the gaps with their imaginations to remember a picture Prince created indirectly. His joy has always been building worlds.
With Prince of Broadway opening tonight at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, audiences take in the worlds of 16 of his shows. A man who relishes in contradictions, the variety of shows all belonging to one catalog (the Prince catalog, that is) and put together for Prince of Broadway is the subtle contradiction of this revue. “No show is particularly stamped with my involvement. I’ve worked on everything,” he says.
Still, Prince knew when he was the right person for the job and when he wasn’t. “When David Merrick offered me Hello, Dolly! I said, ‘I’m the wrong person.’ And Gower Champion was sure as hell the right person. Same thing happened with 42nd Street, Gower Champion was again the right person.”
But Prince never cowered from a challenge or something new if he felt he could do it justice. “When they gave me On The Twentieth Century, it was one of the rare occasions when I hadn’t been offered any in a while and I wasn’t working on anything,” he recalls. “Comden and Green and Cy Coleman brought me that and I thought, ‘I’ve never done farce. I don’t know whether I can do pratfalls and people walking into walls and stuff so if you want to take that chance with me I’ll do it.’ I learned how to do it.”
And then there were the moments that an idea took hold of Prince and he was the one to bring it to fruition. “You take a show like Cabaret,” he says. “The first day of rehearsal of that show, I presented to the company a photograph from the centerfold of LIFE magazine and it was of these guys, white guys with blonde hair and crosses, naked to the waist, snarling and I said, ‘Where was this picture taken?’ Well the obvious answer is Nazi Germany. Well it wasn’t. It was Little Rock, Arkansas, and they were snarling at a little black girl who was going to a white school. My point was it can happen anywhere that human beings live.” He used that photograph as one of the many inspirations for Cabaret. Because it all starts with an idea before he creates the world.