What becomes a legend most? Work. Between 1954 and 1961, Prince was a lead producer of a string of hit musicals, among them “The Pajama Game,” “Damn Yankees,” “West Side Story” and “Fiorello!,” which won a Pulitzer Prize. By the early ’60s, he was the sole — yes, only — producer of huge shows such as “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Fiddler.” (Consider that today, the credits for even the sorriest musicals list dozens of people above the title who call themselves “producers.”)
In 1963, he produced and directed the original Broadway production of “She Loves Me!” and performed similar double duty in 1966 for Fred Kander and John Ebb’s “Cabaret” as well as throughout the richest period of Sondheim’s career, encompassing “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Pacific Overtures” and “Sweeney Todd.” (By then, Ruth Mitchell had become his go-to associate producer.) He and Sondheim parted artistic ways in 1981 after the failure of “Merrily We Roll Along,” but mythology to the contrary, there was never a personal falling-out between them, Prince says. They reunited for the 2003 premiere of Sondheim and Weidman’s “Bounce,” later retitled “Road Show” under new director John Doyle. The musical made it to New York’s Public Theater, but never to Broadway.
Oh, right. Prince also directed Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Evita.” And for 10,480 performances, his direction of “Phantom” has been on display. The show has run on Broadway longer than Adele has been on the Earth.
This breadth of experience accords Prince a certain authority on the condition of Broadway today, and he’s eager to share his concerns. Fearful of sounding as if he’s sitting in judgment, he chooses his words carefully. But it’s also clear that he perceives some of the same things as some of those paid to reflect on the state of what he calls theater’s “store window to the whole world”: that an artistic narrowing has occurred on Broadway that has to be corrected.
“There are some swell shows to see,” he says, singling out the Tony-winning musical “Once” as one of the few adventurous shows to do well there. “But there’s not a menu, not a spectrum.”