Broadway and West End director and producer.

Born: January 30, 1928;

Died: July 31, 2019.

HAL Prince, who has died aged 91, was a legend on both sides of the Atlantic. He directed some of the most successful hit musicals in both countries and won a record of 21 Tony awards. His original and inventive mind ensured that all his productions had a fresh and dynamic appeal – overflowing with zest, energy and sheer pizzaz. From the light-hearted The Pajama Game (1954) to West Side Story (1957), Fiddler on the Roof (1964) and Cabaret (1966) Prince injected theatre with real showmanship. Later came such international smash hits as Lloyd Webber’s Evita and Phantom of the Opera. Prince delighted in avoiding the obvious and produced thrilling shows which were seen by millions and were produced all over the world. They, and Prince, made a fortune.

Stephen Sondheim and Prince were a formidable pairing. After their collaboration on West Side Story, with Sondheim only writing the lyrics, Prince encouraged Sondheim also to compose music. So followed some of Sondheim’s greatest shows directed by Prince. In 1970 came Company followed by Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd and Merrily We Roll Along (a rare flop) and Pacific Overtures.

Andrew Lloyd Webber paid tribute to the man who directed two of his most successful shows, “Not just the prince of musicals, the crowned head who directed two of the greatest productions of my career. He taught me so much and his mastery of musical theatre was without equal.”

Harold Smith Prince – always Hal - was born in Manhattan, the son of Blanche (nee Stern) and Harold Smith. His parents divorced in his youth and after his mother’s remarriage Prince adopted the name of his stepfather, Milton Prince, a stockbroker. Prince was taken to shows by his mother but the Depression hit the family finances badly. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and displayed a real talent in mounting shows. After his military service in Stuttgart – spending much time in back street clubs which would later inspire the setting for Cabaret - he returned to New York and worked as a stage hand.

His enthusiasm for the theatre was established in those years. Prince loved the drama of curtain-up, backstage crises and revelled in the whole excitement of putting on a show. In the late 1940s Prince was the assistant stage manager on a Broadway show. “A member of the chorus was sick and his understudy was sicker.” Prince went on and was hooked.

His first solo production was Damn Yankees (1955) which earned him the title ‘the Boy Wonder of Broadway’. Two years later came the sensational international smash hit West Side Story. The Leonard Bernstein musical adapted Romeo and Juliet to the backstreets of New York and it set the tone and style of all future musicals – it was sung-through with no speech to interrupt the music. With Jerome sizzling Robins’ choreography Prince’s direction was visually and dramatically thrilling.

The Bernstein musical Candide has always been a problem show. Prince and Sondheim tried in 1974 to rethink the show in New York and it enjoyed a good run. It lost money. In 1979 Prince directed with a gothic glee Sweeney Todd. With Angela Lansbury as the demon barber of Fleet Street and complicated hydraulic lifts the production was mighty eye-catching. It too lost money

Thing improved in 1978 when Prince came to London to direct Evita with its exceptional score by Lloyd Webber. Prince brought a sense of personal fiery ambition to the story of Eva Peron’s flamboyant life-style. For Phantom of the Opera (1986) Prince captured the magnificence of the location – the Palais Garnier in Paris – with a grandeur that set the stage ablaze. It was a magnificent example of Prince’s stagecraft at its most wonderfully inventive.

It was not all smash hits. After Evita Prince had eight flops on Broadway – the worst was Grind (1985) set in the Depression.

Prince remained active almost to the end of his life. He published his memoirs (Sense of Occasion) in 2017. Throughout his career he was a theatrical pioneer, “I keep going. I live for the moment” he once said, “I’m not nostalgic, I don’t look back with pleasure at the past.” It was that sense of dramatic ardour and artistic vision that brought so much drama to stages around the world.

Prince married, in 1962, Judy Chaplin. She and their two children survive him. The family have decided to suitably commemorate this larger-than-life character. They will honour his life with a party — rather than a funeral.

Alasdair Steven