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S46 Ep5

Harold Prince: The Director’s Life

Premiere: 11/23/2018 | 00:00:31 |

Take a peek into the legendary career of the pioneering Broadway producer and director and winner of 21 Tony Awards with this retrospective celebration featuring Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mandy Patinkin, John Kander, Susan Stroman, and Angela Lansbury.

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About the Episode

This Great Performances retrospective celebrates the extraordinary career of producer and director Harold Prince, whose seven decades in the theater spans from Broadway’s “Golden Age” to the contemporary blockbusters of today. Winner of 21 Tony Awards (the most of any individual), Prince’s peerless résumé includes such legendary shows as “West Side Story,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Cabaret,” “Company,” “Follies,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Evita,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and many more. In addition to archival clips, this fascinating performance-documentary includes interviews with many of Prince’s renowned collaborators, including Stephen SondheimAndrew Lloyd WebberMandy PatinkinJohn KanderSusan StromanAngela Lansbury and others, all sharing their firsthand insights into his pioneering achievements in the theater.

Premieres Friday, November 23 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). Streams Saturday, November 24 at pbs.org/gperf and on PBS apps.

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-Full music!

[ Suspenseful chord strikes, 'Fugue in D Minor' plays ] -Next, on 'Great Performances'... -♪ I'm just a Broadway baby -A career retrospective of legendary director Hal Prince.

-♪ ♪ ♪ Welcome -'You gotta look into yourself and discover some things, maybe, that you haven't seen before.'

-His seven-decades life in the theater and renowned collaborations.

-♪ Awful lotta fat -♪ Only where it sat -He has almost a movie in his head.

-That's a director's job.

-Prince takes us inside the art and craft that earned him 21 Tony Awards.

-Just looking for that all-important element: truth.

-'Hal Prince: The Director's Life,' is next.

[ Suspenseful music plays ] ♪♪ ♪♪ -Mystery is such an important element in the theater.

♪♪ People are open to more than just happy-go-lucky entertainment, open to looking at themselves in a mirror.

♪♪ I certainly am in favor of more radical elements to a musical, something that surprises.

Your audience likes to be entertained, but it also is open to controversy, to politics, to change.

♪♪ I don't see how I could've worked as often as I have on Broadway, or in the theater, unless I was supremely optimistic, and sometimes that's unrealistic.

And sometimes you're right.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -He wants people to, when they leave that theater, to have a conversation about that story, about that particular show.

And he makes you think of things you might never thought of before.

-Prince really took chances.

I mean, you look at the shows that he did with Sondheim.

They're just gutsy and fresh And it was done at considerable risk of an audience wouldn't understand it, critics wouldn't understand it, and that often happened.

You know, 'Follies' lost all its money and, yet, who remembers anything else that played that season?

I don't.

-He approaches each musical in a different way, serving the story, and [laughing] he's the only director I know, at least of musicals, who's ever bothered to go around the world and take a look at what other theaters are doing.

-I don't think Hal ever did something that was expected or ordinary.

Big colors, big emotions, the opposite of polite.

-The great Hal Prince productions have influenced all of the younger generation of theater directors.

-'Hamilton' could not exist without 'Cabaret' and 'Follies' and, particularly, 'Sweeney Todd' and 'Evita.'

-It's incalculable, really, what he contributed.

[ Romantic tune soars ] ♪♪ [ Hushed conversations, dinnerware clinking ] -[laughing] I can't tell you how many times I've been at an event and get the same questions.

The first one, 'How does one become a director?'

And the second, 'What, exactly, does a director do, anyway?'

[ Piano plays jazz ] -A director is a collaborator.

-The captain of the collaboration.

-Why is there a coach on a football team?

Don't those guys know the plays?

A coach organizes you, inspires you.

A coach helps you believe in yourself.

Hal has that gift.

-Hal has always impressed upon me, and from the very word go, how the design of a show can make or break a musical and, in answer to the questionof 'What does the director do?', of course, that's a very, very key part of it.

-Hal's great strength is his mise-en-scène, it's -- it's thinking of a show like that.

-A director's responsibilities are many: choosing the material, developing it, working with the writers, with the designers, casting, rehearsals.

But, above all, a director needs a guiding principle.

For me, it's the idea of theater as a black box.

[ Whimsical tune plays ] ♪♪ I was lucky enough to be invited to the opening of 'South Pacific' in 1949, which was one of the great, exciting, watershed moments of my life in the theater, because you learned so much could be done in that one show that you'd never seen done before.

It was the first time I had ever seen a musical that never stopped, that provided continuous action by two curtains which went fully across the stage, so it felt like a movie.

The other thing it seemed to be able to do was show a close-up.

It isn't a close-up, but you isolated so that you felt it was a close-up.

What you can do on the stage is very often influenced by film.

I've been influenced by 'Citizen Kane' as much as any theater pieces.

[ Glass breaking ] But, if you sit in a movie theater, you can't contribute to what you're seeing.

It's there.

They give it all to you.

But, in the theater, things happen that trigger your imagination.

And it's all about minimalism, a empty black box, and you fill it with your imagination.

You give the audience a beautiful chair or a table and they fill in the blank spaces.

They'll put in doors and wallpaper and furniture and pictures.

Each person is putting in a different vision.

It's a living, breathing entity.

-♪ I've been thinking flowers ♪ ♪ Maybe daisies ♪ To brighten up the room -He loves the idea that there is a black space with nothing in it and, then, Hal starts to play with it.

I think, if Hal had a model in his office, it would just be of an empty black box and then he would start to take things and put in it like a child with -- with toys, I think.

-One of the luckiest things in my life was, from a very early age, I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up.

I'd listen to the opera on Saturday, from the Met, and I had a cardboard stage.

At the five and dime, you could only get soldiers and nurses.

They'd say, 'The great golden curtain has raised,' and I'd listen to the plot of the opera, 'Tosca' or whatever, and I'd move the nurses and the soldiers around.

And, more often than not, my first act was finished before they'd finished singing, but, on occasion, I'd still be in the middle of the opera and they'd say, 'And the great gold curtain has closed.'

[ Mid-tempo jazz plays ] About eleven or twelve, my mother took me to matinees and I was taken to see Orson Welles in the Mercury Theatre production of 'Julius Caesar.'

I remember how exciting and stimulating it was.

And then, about twelve, I started to go by myself.

Got cut-rate tickets.

♪♪ Leblang's was a drugstore [ Bell chimes ] on Broadway.

You'd go down to the basement and there was a big blackboard and a guy sitting at the top of an A-ladder and the names of every show on Broadway, in every theater.

And, as curtain time approached, he'd erase the price of the ticket and replace it with a cheaper ticket, until, finally, you could get a ticket for 50 cents, [ Cash register chimes ] in the second balcony.

And I'd wait 'til that and then I'd grab the ticket and run.

[ Running footsteps ] [ Door squeaks ] There would be a string quartet in the box, playing you into the theater.

Then, the lights went down.

Sometimes there were footlights; that was exciting.

They lit the front curtain, the red and gold curtain.

Then, the curtain went up... [ Applause ] ...and, usually, you [clap] applauded the set.

Actors came out.

You couldn't quite hear them, but you sat forward in your seat.

You concentrated.

[ Haunting tune plays ] It's that sense of occasion that I miss, to sit in the second balcony of more shows than you can imagine, and never to be forgotten.

I -- Listen, I was in love with escape, is really what it's all about, and I found the escape world far more pleasurable and exciting, the, the world of imagination that took you away from the real world.

[ Suspenseful music plays ] My stepfather and my motherprovided a very grand lifestyle.

We had a big apartment opposite the Museum of Natural History.

We had a place in the country.

We had a large Pierce-Arrow car, beach club membership, and so on, and then, my my stepfather was in Wall Street and the Depression hit us.

In his case, rather late, about 1937.

We lost the house, the car.

We moved into a small apartment.

The whole thing was different.

So, my entertainment was to sit with a pillow on the windowsill and look across at the brownstones and all I could see was what was awful.

So I started to create a world where I was directing plays.

I knew Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart and I went to opening-night parties, all in my head, which is, after all, an extension of what that activity was,listening to the Met Opera, too.

But I escaped into it and I escaped too far into it.

[ Wind whistling ] At 14, I started walking in Central Park, I vividly remember, and talking to myself and, suddenly, I thought, 'My God, this is nuts.

You're nuts.'

So I had, essentially, a nervous breakdown.

And I just pulled myself out of it.

And, very likely, it was valuable.

I came out of it a different kid.

I came out of it ready to realize the life that I daydreamed in Central Park.

And I did.

[ Upbeat tune plays ] Plays are what interested me, you know, not musicals.

I thought musicals were trivial.

And, by and large, they were.

Mostly, what they were was a very light, thin plot tying together terrific songs,one after another after another.

[ Whimsical tune plays ] Kinda inexplicably trivial.

-♪ All dressed up, speakin' Spanish ♪ -The two plots that I do remember, one was called 'Too Many Girls.'

Desi Arnaz was in it. It was a huge hit.

George Abbott directed it and someone says, 'Why are the girls wearing beanies on their head?'

Because they're all virgins.

The second act, the leading lady comes out without a beanie and the audience fell apart.

The other one, which is even a better plot, was a huge hit of Cole Porter's, with Ethel Merman, called 'Something for the Boys.'

-♪ Said, hey, good-lookin' ♪ Say, what's cookin'? -Merman had gotten graphite on her teeth and the Nazi spies found that they could send spy messages to Germany, using her teeth. [laughing] -And then, you think this was so smart.

-And that was the plot.

They loved it.

-♪ Ol' man river -There were exceptions.

'Show Boat' was an exception; and 'Porgy and Bess,' which is really an opera.

And, obviously, the shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

♪♪ -Hal wanted to do more than just entertain, to say something more, to dig deep and have a broader view of what a musical can be.

[ Hushed conversations, dinnerware clinking ] -I graduated from college when I was 19.

Ambitious?

That would be an understatement.

But, I was terrified.

How was I supposed to get a job?

-♪ We're opening doors, singing, here we are ♪ ♪ We're filling up days on a dime ♪ ♪ That faraway shore's looking not too far ♪ ♪ We're following every star ♪ There's not enough time -Among the most important agents, forty years earlier, were a couple of brothers named Chamberlain and Lyman Brown.

[ Typewriter keys clacking ] So I walked in and it was almost cobwebs and I said, 'I'd like to see Mr. Brown.'

'Well, I'm afraid you can't see him.

He's a very busy man.'

So I left a résumé. Well, started to leave a résumé, which had the plays that I wish I had directed,because I had directed no plays.

And a voice behind a door said, 'Who's out there, Effie?'

And she said, 'Oh, there's a young man.

He says he's a director.'

'Oh, a director!

Send him in.'

[ Buzz ] [ Door squeaks ] So the gate buzzed open and I went into this and there's this nice, older man and he's on the phone.

He says, 'Well, listen, you won't believe what just happened.

A young man who everyone's talking about -- He's a director.

He's very young, but he's got a great reputation.

He's done --' And he started to read the plays that I'd done and he said, he said, 'Hold on a minute.'

He covered the phone. He said, 'This is a producer of a summer stock company in New Jersey.

He's lost his director and they have to go into rehearsal in two weeks.

Are you interested?'

And I said, 'You bet.'

And I got the job. [chuckle] Didn't know what the hell I was doing.

And, of course, I bankrupt the theater in two shows.

[ Clacking ] I then wrote a letter to George Abbott.

I said, 'I will be willing to work for you for nothing and, if you can tell that you're not paying me, please fire me.'

And so they sent for me.

-Prince was trained by -- and I don't say this in a pejorative way -- the most conventionally American director there could be: George Abbott.

-♪ New York, New York! A helluva town ♪ ♪ The Bronx is up and the Battery's down ♪ ♪ The people ride in a hole in the ground ♪ ♪ New York, New York!

♪ It's a helluva town!

-People hit their marks, they keep up a pace, and it runs like a well-oiled machine.

-So, I'm assisting him there, as a gofer, more or less.

I knew I had a certain likeable charm, but I was so driven.

There was so much energy coming off me and, though they liked me, it was an irritant.

But I knew what a pain in the rear I was and, on the appointment pad, on every single day, I wrote the words 'Watch it!'

Then, one day, was greeted with, 'Hey, we have a job for you.

Would you like to be on this in the theater?'

And I said, 'You know I'd like to be in the theater.'

So, the next night, I started as an assistant stage manager.

[ Romantic jazz plays ] ♪♪ And, suddenly, Harry Truman drafted me into the Korean War and then they sent me as the occupation troop to Germany.

Abbott never wrote me.

He told me, as I left, 'There will be [striking palm]a job for you when you get out.'

And then I thought, 'Well, I'm writing letters and he's not.

There's no job.'

I got out of the Army and got a copy of I hadn't seen the It said 'Opening tonight, 'In Any Language,' directed by George Abbott.'

I called my parents.

I said, 'I'm here. I'll be home.

But I have a short stop to make before.'

So I went to the theater and Abbott's on the stage, sitting with Bobby Griffith, his right hand.

I walked onto the set and Bobby said, 'Oh, Hal.

How nice to see you.'

And Abbott said, 'Back already?'

And I said, 'Already is two years.'

And he said, 'Well, time flies.

I got a job for you.

Go to see the producer of the musical 'Wonderful Town' and you can be assistant stage manager to Bobby Griffith,' and I was hired.

[ Upbeat tune plays ] ♪♪ I don't think I was a good stage manager.

I know I wasn't.

So I said to Bobby, my boss, 'You know, producing doesn't look that hard to me.

I think we should be producing and I think we should ask Mr. Abbott to help us produce, by directing a show,' 'cause we could raise the money, if he put his name on it.

-It was about a pajama factory in which there was a union quarrel.

That doesn't sound very musical, off-hand, [ Siren wailing in distance ]so I had to be sold on the idea.

-So that's exactly what we did and, a year later, we were producing 'The Pajama Game.'

Sounds very easy, doesn't it?

[ Romantic tune plays ] When you produced a show, you did not receive a cent until the show had paid back its investment.

So, we had to hire ourselves as stage managers.

That meant we were producers in the office and, at the same time, stage managers at rehearsal.

So, on the opening night, we're in our tux, calling the cues, but with the ties open, and flashlights in our hip pockets.

The curtain came down on the opening night.

We could tell there was excitement out there in the house and we walked across the stage and embraced and we had a smash.

♪♪ Our winning streak continued a year later with 'Damn Yankees.'

It started slow.

Then, I realized that people weren't that interested in baseball, as a subject, so, we put Gwen Verdon in a sexy teddy on the posters and, immediately, we sold out.

The next year, we opened 'New Girl in Town.'

♪♪ Ever since we met, at the opening of 'South Pacific,' Steve Sondheim and I have remained close friends.

Steve was about to get his first big break, writing the lyrics for a musical based on Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet.'

-I had tried to persuade Arthur Laurents Jerry Robbins Leonard Bernstein to let Hal and Bobby produce 'West Side Story.'

And, if it hadn't been for Cheryl Crawford bowing out, the last minute, Hal and Bobby would never have produced 'West Side Story.'

-Why did you go to Hal?

-Well, first of all, 'cause he was a good friend.

-Yeah. -You know, my best friend.

And he was a wonderful producer, so, our asses were saved.

[ Upbeat tune plays ] ♪♪ ♪♪ -♪ Mambo!

-I knew 'West Side Story' was epic.

It remains epic.

It changed everything.

Very substantial things, like people learn how to sing, dance, and act.

One person could do all three.

That hadn't prevailed in the theater before.

And the subject was very serious and it ended in a death.

It was like an opera, but it wasn't.

[striking palm] It was a Broadway musical.

So I knew I wanted to do that because I knew it was gonna feed my desire to do non-musical plays.

It was a beacon. I knew where I wanted to be, that audiences are there to see all kinds of material.

And so I produced all manner of shows by first-rate writers.

-♪ Go, mambo!

♪ Go, mambo!

♪ Go, mambo!

-A creative producer used to just be a producer.

But I think that Hal had a stronger aesthetic sense of the stories he wanted to tell, as a producer, than, really, anybody else that came before him.

-Even though I was producing successful shows, I was waiting for someone to ask me to direct one because that's what I really wanted to do.

[ Whimsical tune plays ] My experience with George Abbott and Jerry Robbins on shows I producedtaught me priceless things.

One of the most important is choosing the material that is right.

What does it say to you?

Are you excited?

That decision influences everything you do from that point on.

But when you are trying to get somebody, to hire you for your first Broadway gig, you might not have too much of a choice in the material.

So, when you get an offer, you jump.

[ 'Here Comes the Bride' plays ] [ Drumroll ] 'A Family Affair' was a musical written by John Kander and the Goldman brothers and they were on the road in Philadelphia and it wasn't working.

They asked Abbott, they asked DaCosta, they asked Robbins, any established director, to do the show, and nobody bit.

So, they came to the guy who'd never directed anything.

And they said, 'Come to Philadelphia and see the show,' and I did.

After the show, I went into a room with the five stars and I said, 'Look, I think I can help you.

However, you only have two weeks here before you get to Broadway and previews.

You have to do everything I say.'

So they went in another room and they talked forever and then, rather reluctantly, accepted me.

-♪ (Yeah) We got know-how ♪ ♪ (Yeah) We got teamwork ♪ (Har...) We got harmony ♪ ♪♪ -He projected a kind of excited, but, at the same time, cool professionalism.

I remember the decisions that he made, he made in such a positive way that everybody and he made it work.

-♪ (Ah...) Take a look and whaddya see? ♪ -By the time we got to New York, I'd fallen in love with the showand I thought it would be a hit and it wasn't.

But, my name was on the billboard -♪ Harmony-y-y -in front of the theater, so I was a Broadway director.

-♪ -y-y-y-y-y-y-y [ Outro plays ] -And the word was good.

So, David Merrick called me and said, 'I'm doing a musical version of 'The Matchmaker.'

Would you direct it?'

It's called 'Hello, Dolly!'

♪♪ -♪ Hello, Dolly ♪ Well, hello, Dolly ♪ It's so nice ♪ To have you back where you ♪ Belong -[laughing] I turned it down.

I said, ''Hello, Dolly!'? What do you mean, 'It's nice to have you back where you belong?'

Her whole life, she's wanted to there.

She's wanted to live, and she hasn't.

And that's the point.'

Tsk.

I was both right and wrong.

-♪ Dolly, don't ever go away ♪ Agai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai ♪ -ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai -ai-ai-n! ♪ -Instead, I chose material I thought was a better fit for me and that became the first 'She Loves Me.'

-♪ Good morning -♪ Good day -♪ How are you this beautiful day? ♪ ♪ Isn't this a beautiful morning? ♪ -♪ Very -The original production of 'She Loves Me,' I saw it a couple o' times and it had this lighter-than-air quality and it was a charming show. It was not a hit.

-It was killed with kindness.

said, 'a bonbon of a musical.'

Well nobody wanted to see a bonbon of musical, if they could see 'Hello, Dolly!', a [strikes palm] bash! of a musical.

So I worried that I was a good director of unsuccessful musicals.

Until 'Cabaret.'

[cluck] I had a blockbuster.

[ Hushed conversations, dinnerware clinking ] With 'Cabaret,' I was finally able to choose the material that spoke to me.

Which means there was a political and social content and it all hinges on the next step: developing the material with your collaborators.

-That's the best example, still, in my experience, of a collaboration where you [tapping foot] talk and talk and talk.

It was the beginning of what I call a 'What if?' way of collaborating.

'What if somebody throws a rock through the window?

What if she has an abortion?'

You're building the piece slowly in this room, with people just talking.

-I didn't think it was coming out as exciting as it should.

I thought, 'It's like an old-fashioned musical.'

-♪ What if there's someone you like a lot ♪ ♪ But the affair seems to go to pot? ♪ ♪ What better moment to say so what? ♪ ♪ It'll all blow over -The leading lady, Sally Bowles, will dance on tables and it'll all be so spirited, but not rich and -- and -- and not worrisome.

Which is, of course, what it had to be, because it was the period before Adolf Hitler and World War II.

Well, at that time, I was scheduled to go to Russia and I'd heard about a show in the Taganka Theatre by a director named Lyubimov.

The show knocked me over.

-[Singing in Slavic language] -I was mesmerized by the theatricality of all of it, people singing in the lobbybefore you got into the theater.

These guys wanted theater to be larger-than-life, to be on a black box, not to be real, and energetic and unanticipated, surprising.

Comic scenes and then very dramatic scenes.

And dance. Suddenly, dance.

And, essentially, what it said to me was, 'You've been working in the fashion that you know.

You really oughta be expressing yourself more.

You gotta look into yourselfand discover some things, maybe, that you haven't seen before, and try them.'

[ Piano plays mid-tempo tune ] I thought back to years earlier, when I was in the Army, to my own experiences in Germany.

It was all exactly the picture of a landscape after severe bombing and war and everything was so meager and life was rough.

I just -- I thought it was the most excit-- I thought I was the star in my war movie, really.

I discovered a place called Maxine's, which was a bar in the basement of a bombed-out church.

[ Beep-beep ] [ Traffic whooshing ] And I would go to Maxine's any chance I got because downstairs wasa little bar, maybe two patrons, and a show: three very heavy showgirls, dancers, purportedly, in butterfly costumes, who would circle and wave their arms; and an emcee who was a dwarf and who had bright lipstick, eye shadow, false eyelashes.

He fancied himself extremely funny and extremely clever.

There's a tragic aftertaste when you see somebody landing so poorly with an audience of three, of which I was one.

-[Singing in German] -There was something so theatrical about that place and that figure and I found it really kind of exciting, to be honest.

I came back to New York and I mentioned the emcee that I'd seen all those years earlier and I said, 'Why don't we have a character that represents Germany?'

Germany of the Depression and when the Nazis were destroying six million people.

-♪ ♪ ♪ Welcome ♪ ♪ ♪ Stranger ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Happy to see you ♪ stay ♪ ♪ ♪ -Once you'd introduced the rise of Nazism, suddenly, your leading character was Germany, in the face of a pathetic, little entertainer, and the musical numbers, because of Joel's presence, they were outside the plot, commenting on what was happening in real life.

-[Laughing] ♪♪ [ Applause ] -I remember 'Willkommen,' you know, on stage.

I think it was one of the things that most affected and influenced me in my kind of early theater days 'cause I remember thinking I'd never seen a musical number that tells so many ingredients of a story so quickly and so effectively and so entertainingly.

But in that first 10 minutes, I was transported to a Berlin that I didn't really realize existed.

♪♪ ♪♪ -[high-pitched] ♪ stay! ♪ -♪ ♪ ♪ Welcome ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ -I learnt something, in an entertaining and an informative way that only a master stager can do.

-We were in rehearsal for the first day and the company sat around and I opened magazine.

I said, 'I wanna show you a picture.'

A bunch of guys, bare to the chest, and they seemed very blond and Aryan and they were snarling at the camera.

And I said, 'Where -- Where was this picture taken?'

And, of course, everybody immediately said, 'Well, Germany.'

Then, I said, 'No, it was taken in Little Rock and they're all looking at a little African American girl integrating a school.'

And I said, 'And the reason I'm showing you this is because I firmly believe it can happen here.'

[ 'What Would You Do?' plays ] ♪♪ -♪ With a storm in the wind ♪ What would you do?

♪ Suppose you're one frightened voice ♪ ♪ Being told what the choice ♪ Must be ♪♪ ♪ What would you do?

♪ If you ♪ Were ♪ Me?

♪♪ -Quite a lot of people, I don't think, realized what 'Cabaret' really was doing and it's staggering to me.

I saw it five times?

Five times, and, and it was -- that was the moment where I thought that, if ever I got the chance to work with Hal Prince, I wanted to.

-It's hard to imagine how daring it was, at the time, and it's still the best production of that show I've ever seen.

This was a real vision of the material that combined show business and theatricality and sort of an expressionism that broke away from realism and it was chilling and there are things in it that give me the shivers when I think of them, to this day, and it's a different aesthetic.

This was pushing the theater forward.

-♪ I love ♪ A ca-ba... ♪ ...re-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e- e-e-e-e-e-e-t ♪ [ Hushed conversations, dinnerware clinking ] -Developing the materialwith your writers is imperative, but just as vital is the director's responsibility to come up with the look of a show.

I like to put a designer on very early.

There may be just an outline or there may be a few scenes or there may be a very rough draft, and that's very unusual.

But the advantage is the whole show is of a piece because he's been in the whole process.

That was particularly true of my collaboration with the greatest designers of all time: Boris Aronson.

We probably met for six months and talked and talked and talked.

And what was interesting about his talk was he rarely ever talked about architecture or streets in foreign countries, or wherever our show was.

He usually talked about the senses: taste, smell, touch.

We talked about what people ate and what the smell was on the street.

That informed what he'd show me.

I'd get a whole, full picture.

It helps a director enormously, of course, when you're talking to actors.

Boris rarely showed me what he was doing in stages.

We talked and talked and then, suddenly, one day, he'd bring in the model.

And this model shocked me in the best possible way because it had a mirror, a slightly warped mirror, and it was angled in a way that the audience could see itself while they were waiting for the show to start.

Terrific, instant metaphor about people.

I was knocked out by it.

-Aronson was a brilliant designer, obviously, with an avant-garde background that traced back to constructivism in Russia and experimental Yiddish theater in The Bronx in the 1920s.

The standard designers of that time -- Oliver Smith, wonderful designer, but they were realistic sets.

And here's this guy Aronson, who thought the way a Kandinsky or a Paul Klee might.

He wanted a sense of the world going mad.

-Boris Aronson had a phenomenal and boundless imagination, always a surprise for me.

You need constant push.

You don't always deliver it yourself.

[ Guitar strums tranquil tune ] Boris and I shared inspiration, from paintings, sculpture, works of art.

Boris, to suggest what 'Company' should be, he sent me a postal card of a Francis Bacon painting and, of course, it's all rather abstract and he said, 'This is how I want to design 'Company.'' And I thought, 'Good luck, pal.'

I had great faith in him, but I didn't know where he was going.

Well, the steel structure that he came up with was the impulse from that Francis Bacon painting.

Boris chose totally a minimalist space.

It was life in New York.

Everybody lives in towers and people live in little cubby holes and other people live in large spaces.

He surprised me because he put an elevator in the set.

Fourteen people could get on it.

Tiny elevator, but they could all get on it and ride down from the second floor to the ground level and, immediately, you knew this was New York.

[ Bright tune trips ] My collaboration with designers has been invaluable, especially when finding a visual metaphor.

It's the motor of the show that drives everything.

[ Upbeat jazz plays ] 'Follies' was one of the best experiences of my life, creatively.

The whole resonance, the subject of the show, was so important.

It was about how difficult it is for some people to grow old.

♪♪ These people relive their lives at a party honoring their days in the Ziegfeld Follies and the theater is to be torn down the next day.

The whole set design was suggested by a photo of Gloria Swanson.

She had opened the Roxy Theatre with a movie, decades before, and it was a palace.

-It was the opening of the Roxy, the cathedral of the motion picture.

Ten thousand people jammed the intersection at 7th Avenue [ Vehicle horns honking ] and 50th Street in New York.

My name is Gloria Swanson.

I was there, too.

-Some years later, they tore it down and a photographer took her to the shambles and she stood in the rubble of all this, looking glamorous as hell.

That influenced not only the design, but the whole show.

It compressed everything you wanted to say about 'Follies': the grandeur which was lost, the dream which was lost, real life vis-à-vis imagined life, how the one thing you can't hold off is time.

That's -- That's a metaphor.

So what did Boris do?

He did many levels.

He tore down the back of the theater so you could see the street beyond.

There were shards everywhere and odd platforms, a kind of abstract excitement.

And then, all of our principal actors, our stars, had what I think were collective nervous breakdowns because of this whole stretch of memory and the present.

-When we first showed Hal the show, there was a flashback to their earlier selves.

Hal said, 'Why don't you do more of that?'

I said, 'Because how are we gonna to get people from the past to the present, when you can't just have -- have a wagon come in like that and everybody holdonto the furniture and then say, 'Oh, here we are, 20 years old again'? And Hal said, 'I'll take care of that.

Go anywhere in the theater you want and any place and time.'

And that freed us.

So this whole fluid thing that Hal wanted, of going all over the theater, but not really going to a literal place, it just let the audience imagine it, which is why there was no scenery onstage.

There were some platforms, period.

No scenery, whatsoever; no props, whatsoever.

-I said to the cast, 'We're going over a theater that's about to be torn down: to the box office, to dressing rooms; the roof; [laughing] to the bathroom, maybe.

I insist that we all know where we're playing these scenes.

Even though we're always playing them on, essentially, this empty space, that, if you know where you are and what you're doing, the audience gets reassured, observing that, and, if you don't know, they're shaken.

They won't commit themselves to what you're doing onstage.

-'Follies' was crazily daring.

I mean, it was about a haunted theater taking place in two time frames at once, done in this poetic style where you feel you're in a haunted house and then, suddenly, you go back in time.

Prince gave a lot of leeway to Michael Bennett.

You can see incipient Bennett ideas for 'A Chorus Line' in the original production of 'Follies.'

So you have Bennett rising to the top, Sondheim's score is insanely good, and then you have casting that can never be duplicated because you had people on that stage who were essentially like the characters.

-♪ Someday, maybe ♪ All my dreams will be repaid ♪ ♪ Hell, I'd even play the maid ♪ To be in a show ♪ Say, Mr. Producer ♪ Yeah!

♪ I'm talkin' to you, sir [ Laughter ] ♪ I don't need a lot ♪ Only what I've got ♪ Plus a tube o' greasepaint ♪ And a follow spot ♪ I'm just a Broadway baby [ Laughter ] ♪ Slavin' at the five-and-ten ♪ Cash!

[ Laughter ] ♪ Waitin' for that great day when ♪ [ Applause ] ♪ I'll be in ♪ A show ♪♪ ♪ Broadway baby [ Laughter ] ♪ Makin' rounds ♪ All afternoon ♪ Eatin' at a greasy spoon ♪ To save all my dough ♪ Oh!

♪ At my tiny flat ♪ There's just my cat [ Laughter ] ♪ A bed, and a chair ♪ Still ♪ I'll stick it 'til ♪ I'm on a bill ♪ All over Times Square ♪ Broadway baby -It wasn't a box office hit, you know?

But I think it was a very audacious show.

Sondheim's score was breathtaking and an important one, from my point of view, because it talked aboutsuperficial gains and real life.

It pushed you into a place where you realized that a lot of what we worship is meretricious, false, and there are some basic tenets that you better live by and that are what your life will amount to.

John McMartin played the important businessman.

He had all the stature and cover and protection.

And, of course, he was a human being, with all the fragility, and I sort of related to his character.

There's a song that Sondheim wrote, called 'The Road You Didn't Take.'

It was just a solo.

And we did it over and over and over again and I realized I was obsessed by what its message was because Steve's lyrics were extraordinary and it was all about crossroads in your life and times when you walk the wrong path and times when you walk the right one and how much attention has to be paid to the choices you make in your life.

[ Ethereal tune plays ] -♪ You're either a poet ♪ Or you're a lover ♪ Or you're the famous Benjamin Stone ♪ ♪ You take one road ♪ You try one door ♪ There isn't time ♪ For any more -And I thought, 'There's a warning in this: Get a better balance in your life.'

-♪ One has regrets ♪ Which one forgets ♪ And, as the years go on -When you're fortysomething, early 40s, you think, 'What investment am I really putting in the future and is -- is my career the whole thing?'

And your career hasn't, mustn't be, so it sort of tells you to pay a little more attention to the other part of your life: your family.

[ Tender tune plays ] Judy said, 'You work a lot.'

'I know it.'

'Well, guess what.

If you want a marriage, you have to give up your summers to your family.

We have to go away someplace and enjoy each other.'

♪♪ My wife doesn't suffer fools gladly and she has great aspirations, artistically, for everything.

She's a huge influence on what I did artistically, and always has been.

♪♪ And, if I were doing something she didn't like and it was too late to say anything, she wouldn't.

She understands the pressure that you have.

♪♪ I always said, 'I have a hit. I got a flop,' assessing success by how well it was doing at the box office.

This was driving my wife a little batty, so, one day, she said to me, 'I wish you'd stop saying hit and flop and start saying success and failure.'

♪♪ You can have an artistic success that flops at the box office and, once you know those -- those parallel lines, it will sustain you in the theater, a place where you get your measure of flops.

But success and failure, that's a different thing.

[ Hushed conversations, dinnerware clinking ] [ Bright jazz tune plays ] The collaboration with the authors never stops.

In fact, revisions keep coming in because, after all, nothing is writ in stone.

-I think what Hal was really able to do, which very few directors can do, is to say, 'Do you know what? That's not good enough.'

I don't think I've ever had anybody who's just listened to a number of mine, you know, or a scene that I've written and just turn round and said, 'That's not good enough.

You can do far better than that.

What are you talking about?'

You know, go away, rewrite, bring it back tomorrow morning, as if I'm some kind of five-year-old child who's failed to do [laughing] your kind of homework.

And I think that's a fantastic quality because you accept it from him.

I was determined that Hal direct 'Evita' and not all my colleagues completely agreed with me at the time, but I can't think of any other director who could've taken the story and did what he did with it.

♪♪ I took the roughs of the album which we had recorded and he was in Mallorca and he said would I come and stay with him.

-I loved the material he played for me.

-♪ Requiem -What you were following was the rise of this poor, fairly ordinary, but ambitious woman to becoming a glamorous iconand the first lady of Argentina.

-♪ Requiem, Evita -What we were writing about was how an extremist could get to power and I think he understood the subtext of it, which is an extremist and a celebrity as well.

And, my goodness, I mean, I hate to say it, but, it's not far away from matters today, is it?

-So I said, 'I'd love to do it.

I don't know how I'll do it, but I'd love to do it,' and that's a challenge.

So I thought, 'I have to get a script here,' and I pulled out the liner notes and the liner notes were simply lyrics.

So all I really did was dictate scene by scene by scene.

Then I described what the setting would be and elements in the activity.

So the 4 pages turned into 25 pages.

But then I realized, This is a form I've seen before.'

What is it? It's -- It's fragmented.

It's not unlike what I'd seen at the Taganka all those years earlier, in Russia.

-The consequence, of course, was something like 'The Art of the Possible,' which was very much in responseto something that Hal suggested.

-I thought, 'There's something missing.

Perón is not as present as he should be.

After all, going after him.'

And I said, 'What would you think about we see the rise of him, for a change?

What if we had five or six other officers in the military and they played musical chairs?'

-♪ Practicing ♪ The art ♪ Of the possible ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Laughter ] -Until there's only one guy left and he tips his hat back and he puffs on his cigar and you see it's Juan Perón.

-[Laughing] -♪ Perón, Perón -If there's a number and you really don't think it's right and your collaborator digs in stubbornly, you know, probably, that he's afraid he can't do a better number.

I remember, vividly, a run-in I had with Fred Ebb.

Fred and John had written a song for 'Spider Woman,' for Chita Rivera, and I didn't like it and I said I didn't like it.

So I said, 'Write a new number, please.'

They sent me a song and I said, 'No this is the same song, backwards or something.'

And then another song. I said, 'Well, that is the same song again, same song again.'

Finally, Fred Ebb ventilated and said, 'You on -- You're on your [bleep] vacation and we're writing songs and you're telling us they're no good.'

And I said, 'Well, I'm telling you what I feel.'

And they wrote, for my money,the best song in the whole show.

♪ You got to learn ♪ How not to see ♪ What you see ♪ The slice of hell ♪ You call your life ♪ Is harsh and mean ♪ So why not lie beside me ♪ On a movie screen?

♪ Why must you see ♪ What you've seen?

♪ And if you find that you land in jail ♪ ♪ A little fantasy will not fail ♪ ♪ It's just as simple as ABC ♪ ♪ Come up here ♪ Play with me ♪ Play with me ♪ You've got to learn how -Working with Hal, he likes to meet a lot.

A lot of it had to do with what Hal felt about what we'd written.

He'd say, 'I don't think this scene is working right,' or 'I think this is great. Can you make this more?'

And sometimes, if I wrote a song he really liked, he'd asked me to play it a second time.

-The sessions we had, which I miss, were always fun.

You talked a You'd talk and he'd talk and elaborate and then he'd go away and stun you with what he'd created.

An example of this is when we were working together on 'A Little Night Music.'

-When we cast Glynis Johns, Hal just thought she'd be perfect casting and he was right.

We wanted a song in the scene between her and Fredrik.

I said, 'It's Fredrik's scene, so I think Frederick should have the song.'

And Hal called me from rehearsal one day.

He said, 'I want you to come down and look at what I've done.'

And he had directed the scene in such a way that it was her scene, and not Fredrik's.

I said, 'Okay, you've made your case,' and I gave it to him the next day.

-♪ Don't you love farce?

♪ My fault, I fear ♪♪ ♪ I thought that you'd want what I want ♪ ♪ Sorry, my dear ♪ But where are the clowns?

♪ Quick, send in the clowns ♪ ♪ Don't bother ♪ They're ♪ Here -Sometimes, when he played a number -- And he never pushed the number.

He'd always say, 'I'm a little apprehensive,' He'd play the number and I'd say, 'I don't know. Is that good?'

Meaning, 'I guess I don't like it.'

And there were two answers: 'Oh, I see what you're talking about.

I'll write another.'

And a fellow with chops can write another.

Another and better.

Or he'd say, 'Yes, Hal. You'll like it a lot when you start to work on it,' and he was right.

And a good example for that was a song in 'Company,' called 'Barcelona.'

'Where ya goin'?' 'Barcelona.'

And he said, 'Barcelona's a very funny word, you know, Hal.'

And I thought, 'Well, I don't know that Barcelona's a funny word. It's a pretty city.'

And, as I was working on the material, I started to laugh.

-♪ Whatcha thinking?

-♪ Barcelona -♪ Oh ♪ Flight 18 -♪ Stay a minute -♪ I would like to -♪ So?

-♪ Don't be mean -♪ Stay a minute -♪ No, I can't -♪ Yes, you can -♪ No, I can't -♪ Where ya going?

-♪ Barcelona -Because I'm a procrastinator, he wanted to keep riding the horse: 'What's up, kid?

Why don't you guys come down to the office and let's talk.'

That kind of thing.

Hal's major quality, as you know, is impatience, -[Laughs] -so, it turned out to be very useful when he dealt with me.

I once tried to teach him to drive and, after about three minutes, I was so frightened for my life, I didn't know what to do, because his way of driving is 'Will you get out of there?! What does that guy do?'

[ Laughter ] I said, 'Hal, just drive.'

The enthusiasm was coming out, not -- It wasn't even -- It was hostile, but that wasn't the quality of it.

The quality was, 'Why is everybody a fool and I'm not?!' You know?

[ Upbeat tune plays ] -I think a lot of artists spend a lotta time thinking, 'Why should I not do this?'

[ Laughing ] -Instead of?

-'I'm excited.'

-Well Hal's enthusiasm is -- is completely infectious.

-It's infectious.

-It's infectious.

-'Let's get to it. Let's get to it.

Let's not think any negative thoughts.'

-Kind of positiveness that makes you wanna put him through a wall.

-He's certainly very stimulating when you work with him, 'cause he's full of ideas and, mostly he's full of enthusiasm and energy.

I envy that in him.

I watch him and I think, 'I've got to keep my enthusiasm up.'

-You get swept along with it.

'That doesn't work there.

This works here. Spectacular there.'

He kind of bubbles over.

♪♪ -Hal had asked us to read 'Zorba.'

So Hal said, 'I'll call you and we'll figure out what's going to happen with this.'

And Fred and I were dreading it because we were gonna say no.

And then he started describing the first scene.

He described in vivid detail how that whole moment was going to work and, by the end of his description of that, we both said yes.

[ Cheering ] -♪ Running for the shelter ♪ Naked in the snow ♪ Learning that a tear drops ♪ Anywhere you go ♪ Finding it's the mud ♪ That makes the roses grow ♪ But that's the only choice ♪ You know ♪ Know ♪ Opa!

♪♪ -Hal's enthusiasm is positive.

We couldn't ♪♪ ♪ Life is what you do ♪ While you're waiting ♪ To die This is how the time ♪ Goe-oe-oe-oe-oe-oe- oe-oe-oe-oe-s ♪ ♪ By-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y- y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y ♪ [ Whistling ] ♪♪ [ Clapping rapidly ] ♪♪ [ Whistling and applause ] -I love actors, you know.

I love the joy I find in collaborating with them.

And despite that, or maybe because of it, my least-favorite duty as a director is auditioning.

[ Hushed conversations, dinnerware clinking ] -Day after day, she'd sit in the pie-shop window, reading a Bible and eating me out of house and home.

Now, that's good enough for the first gentleman that come.

-Maggie, that's fine. Can you stick around?

-Sure. -All right, dear.

It's often awkward, humiliating, stressful.

It's the worst possible way to cast a show.

Except for any other way.

All right. Will the ladies mind waiting outside for a minute, please?

What have I got to hear now?

I've got to hear -- I have no other parts to hear?

-No. -But you just have singers -- -So I just have singers to look at.

So, then, in that case, I guess you just better damn well bring in absolutely everybody and let's put all the girls who read over there and then -- It's faulty.

Because some actors audition well, but never grow in a part; and some actors give auditions, but you can see something that will lead to great things.

Yes. Would you go over there, too, please?

All right, now the point is this -- [whispering] The point is this.

You're just looking for that all-important element: truth.

You got your script, your design.

You've cast your show.

[laughing]You've been up countless nights, running it through your head.

And now comes the next step: rehearsals!

-Hal rehearsals. And why shouldn't he?

'Cause that's where he gets the juices flowing, you know?

-I'm glad you're here.

Yes, I see, but I can get through that.

I'm glad you're here. I regard the first day of rehearsal as extremely important because it's an introduction of material to the people who'll be working on it and you all have to be in the same place as you approach a project.

-It's very important that somebody has a sort of total concept of what needs to be achieved because we all come wandering onto the stage, you know.

We don't know our lines, necessarily.

Actually, in Hal's case, you do know your lines.

[ Laughter ] You learn the show before you ever set foot at the first rehearsal.

Now, that was a first for me, but I went along with it because I thought, 'Well, it's just the way the great Hal Prince wants to work it and I'm -- I'm game.' [laughs] -Are we gonna be here the whole time, 'til we get into the theater?

-We had a wonderful meeting with the cast and him, in which told us what he hoped to achieve, what he was looking for from this material.

-Some of the greatest memories in my life are those opening-day speeches with Hal.

-Good morning. School is convened.

The credo that's kinda governed the work that Sondheim and I have done together has always been less, 'Less is more.'

And I found, somewhere, another saying, which was that 'Less is boring and that more is more.'

And it was obvious.It's been staring us in the face all these years, so we determined to go completely in the other direction and give of everything than anyone had ever seen before.

-He so what he does for a living, and that comes out in that opening speech.

I always think, 'We could have sold some tickets to that.

[laughing] We could've made some money on that.'

'Cause it is spectacular and everyone is riveted.

-I prepare a so I can practically do the whole show on the model.

And you show them the costumes, what the rendering for wigs and makeup will be.

Then, you tell them the metaphor that inspired you.

What we did was make a factory, so that the whole play takes place -- -He went into it in detail.

He told us the history of London, in the days that Sweeney Todd was a character, and it was very helpful, indeed, and needed, particularly with this sort of material, 'cause this was absolutely out of left field, you know.

[ Laughing ] -[playing spooky tune] Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,' the new Stephen Sondheim/ Harold Prince musical thriller, starring Angela Lansbury.

-[Singing indistinctly] -In the case of 'Sweeney Todd,' Sondheim and Wheeler created a masterwork about a man's revenge and the revenge is in the form of cannibalism.

So, I thought of making it about the industrial age.

And then, the revenge that Sweeney feels can be mirrored in the rest of the cast and they can be as angry as he because they're on sweatshop conditions with no money, breathing foul air, and having no lives at all.

I said, 'You all add up to one, tragic person, [ Suspenseful music plays ] in chains, in a factory.

Now, how do you wanna illustrate that?'

And a little girl came to me and said, 'I saw a picture the other day of a young girl in a leg brace, an iron leg brace.'

And she said, 'It must've weighed 100 pounds, from hip all the way to ankle, and she dragged it around her entire life, to the factory, home, and so on.

May I wear one?'

And I said, 'You bet.'

So we made her one in leather.

That's just a very dramatic exemplar, but other people did other things.

What I learned from Jerome Robbins was I saw him dance whole companies and I saw him put them in a block and move them from upstage down or move them diagonally.

-♪ City on fire -Saying, 'This chorus is character, expressing emotion.'

So, in 'Sweeney Todd,' I took something like 'City on Fire' and moved them in those patterns.

[ Steam whistle blowing ] It creates a lot of excitement, a dynamic. -♪ City on fire -Although there's not a lot of big breakout choreography moments in his shows, he has worked with some of the greatest choreographers, Jerome Robbins and Michael Bennett, who understand the weight of the story.

-Certain choreographers emphasize character and what they're thinking and how they live, and so on.

-Or you jump down the stairs.

-Or you come down.

-So you begin to track your victims.

-Larry said, and I think it's very right, the stuff there, that first stuff there is a caged tiger, isn't it?

It's -- It's -- It's an animal.

-When Hal directs a scene, he's very good about discussing the whole arc of the scene first, the journey of the scene, with the actors.

And, because he has discussed it with them in great detail, the actors sort of naturally now go where it is believable.

And so, when they do blocking onstage, it comes from a real place and then Hal will watch that and then he'll make adjustments accordingly.

But he wants it to begin from a very real place.

-He has almost a movie in his head of what he wants to see and what he wants to hear.

He wants -- He's got the beats in his head and I think that that's the way he directs.

He doesn't tell anybody He -- He assumes they have gotten that from the script and from their own particular expertise as actors.

-Your job is not to teach Angela Lansbury how to act.

Your job is to edit a little, stimulate a little; every once in a while, poke a little idea that she may not have thought of.

That's a director's job.

-We had a great deal of leeway, but Hal felt that this element of comedy that he asked me for was very, very important to the piece.

There's -- It's a very dark story and there's a lot of horror in it and it was very necessary to lift the mood, from time to time.

-What is that?

-♪ It's priest ♪ Have a little priest -♪ Is it really good?

-♪ Sir, it's too good ♪ At least ♪ Then again, they don't commit sins of the flesh ♪ ♪ So it's...pretty fresh ♪♪ -♪ Awful lotta fat -♪ Only where it sat -♪ Haven't you got poet ♪ Or something like that?

♪ No, you see, the trouble with poet is ♪ ♪ How do you know it's ♪ Deceased?

♪ Try the priest -And Mrs. Lovett is that person who does it and she's so outlandish that she relieves the tension of the moment, oftentimes.

-Good for business, too, always leaves ya wanting more.

-Everything worked within that space very, very well.

[ Suspenseful music plays ] But the set was very simple, if you think about it, and it was all about lighting.

The lighting was wonderful.

-He gets the best out of everybody because he lets you do it.

♪♪ -He never told me how to light a show, ever, other than it should be day or night.

But I remember, on 'Sweeney Todd,' Hal handed me a photograph of Grand Central Station with all the sunlight coming through the windows and he had ripped it out of a magazine, handed it to me, and he said, 'It should look like this,' and he said, 'but lots of shadows.'

You take that and you add that to the Industrial Revolution.

That was very clear.

And we did sunlight this way and we had shadows that way, and we took that metaphor of industrial revolution and took it into lighting because he showed me a picture.

-After the rehearsals, you finally get a chance to test your show in front of a paying audience and work out any remaining kinks.

It's time for the previews.

-I remember the first preview.

I was down in the basement and I had to come up across the stage, underground, and then come up to make my entrance.

And Franne, the designer of the costumes, said to me, 'Oh she's too clean; she's too clean.'

And they were eating lunch and they had this spaghetti sauce and she came up to me and she threw a thing of tomato sauce all down my front.

So I went up onstage stinking of tomato sauce, you know.

And, you know, with cheese in it and goodness knows what.

I'll never forget it.

And it was all down the front of my shirt.

But I got through the first scene and got offstage and almost took a -- almost punched her in the face [laughing] for doing it to me, you know.

First, first preview, yeah.

-♪ Wait! What's your rush? What's your hurry? ♪ ♪ You gave me such a fright; I thought you was a ghost ♪ ♪ Half a minute, can't you sit? ♪ ♪ Sit ya down, sit ♪ All I meant is that I haven't seen a customer for weeks ♪ ♪ Did you come in for a pie, sir? ♪ ♪ Do forgive me if me head's a little vague ♪ ♪ Ooh, what is that?

♪ But you'd think we had the plague ♪ From the way that peoplekeep avoiding -- No, you don't ♪ ♪ Heaven knows I try, sir Yuckh!

♪ But there's no one comes in even to inhale ♪ ♪ Right you are, sir; would you like a drop of ale? ♪ ♪ Mind you, I can't hardly ♪ Blame them ♪ These are probably the worst pies ♪ ♪ In London -And the winner is... Angela Lansbury, 'Sweeney Todd.'

[ Cheering and applause ] Len Cariou in 'Sweeney Todd.'

-'Sweeney Todd,' author Hugh Wheeler!

-Eugene Lee for 'Sweeney Todd.'

[ Applause ] Franne Lee for 'Sweeney Todd.'

-'Sweeney Todd,' music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim!

The award for the Outstanding Musical of the Season... 'Sweeney Todd.'

-The winner is Harold Prince, for 'Sweeney Todd.'

[ Cheering, whistling, and applause ] [ Triumphant music sweeps ] [ Applause ] Thank you.

[ Laughs ] -[Hooting] Thank you and -- and thank those whom I love for making this life in the theater such a happy one. Thank you.

[ Applause ] Lest you think it's all gravy, after 'Sweeney Todd' and 'Evita,' I entered the longest drought of my career.

♪♪ Year after year, I'd take my family to an opening and, the next morning, we'd read the [laughing] ghastly reviews.

[ Melancholy tune plays ] But I did what I've always done: the morning after a show opens, I scheduled a meeting at 10:00 am with the authors of the next project.

♪♪ -One of the great gifts that guys like Hal and Sondheim can give us is when they fail.

'Cause if those guys can fail, doin' the best they can, so can we.

They forget what a gift their struggle is because they're so great and fallible at the same time.

I remember, once, before we're opening in New York, I get scared and I articulated that to him and he took me aside and he said, 'I get scared, too.'

And this is Hal, who's like a big, powerful, control freak, you know?

Doesn't show that color.

It makes you realize that, in those of us who, we can never imagine them being afraid, they, too, must have a seed somewhere deep down that builds up that confidence, that armor, against the fear of anything, that those fears within us, that's what makes you work so damn hard!

That's what makes you wanna make something no one has ever seen before!

[ Tender tune plays ] [ Dinnerware clinking ] -Listen, you work just as hard on the failures as you do the successes.

Same process.

I've been in this business seventy years and I still can't predict whether a show is going to be a hit or a flop,but, sometimes, if you're lucky, the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts and you hit a zeitgeist with your audience.

It certainly helps your odds if you can grab them in the first couple of minutes of the show.

You walk into the theater.

There's no show curtain.

There are some props covered in silk.

One says 'chandelier' on it.

And some beautiful curtains just sort of stacked up.

The house lights go down and you hear a buzzing of people [ Hushed conversations ]and then, when the lights go up, there are people there.

There's a man extended overhead on a A-ladder and there are people sitting around on the stage and there's an old man in a wheelchair and it's an auction.

[ Thud ] -[portentously] Sold!

-But I always thought it's an auction underwater.

Everybody's on the floor of the ocean.

The auctioneer talks a little forbiddingly, a little threateningly... -Lot six six thr-r-r-ee!

-...and then, he sells a theater poster.

The poster unravels [clap] and hits the floor like a gunshot.

[ ] What the hell's that for?

And all the people had gloves on and they clapped in different tempos.

You don't get it exactly, but it's unsettling.

And then, a lady with a veil in front of her says, '[gravely] 25.'

-25. -Just like that.

A chandelier in pieces is sold, the dust covers come off, and full music!

[ Suspenseful chord strikes,organ plays 'Fugue in D Minor' ] ♪♪ The chandelier rises over the audience's head.

What the hell is going on?

Well, that's a mystery.

It's a mystery and you're hooked.

[ Suspenseful music plays ] -♪ In all your fantasy ♪ You always knew -Whatever else, Hal's a master showman as well.

That shows in the staging of 'Phantom' because there's no fat there.

Everything goes seamlessly, which was quite filmic.

He said, 'Right, there's a rule on this Andrew.'

He said that, 'We're going to start one scene before the scene change is finished, or the other way round.'

'In other words,' he said, 'We don't want the audience to be ever ahead of us.

We have to always be ahead of the audience.

If we think that the music needs to take over before anybody can question anything, get the music started, Andrew.'

♪♪ That's why the staging of 'The Phantom of the Opera' is so triumphant.

I don't think anybody else could've done it as well as that.

♪♪ [ Romantic tune plays ] ♪♪ -I do know audiences have changed.

The cost of theater tickets has escalated and so the money is in different hands.

♪♪ And people are willing to be [chuckling] just entertained.

♪♪ That was never a priority of mine.

I wanted to provoke conversation, for people to leave the theater, but not the show.

I wanted issues on the stage, as they had been in my youth.

♪♪ After all these years, I still love it, [ Hushed conversations ] every step of the process, and, every day, I can't wait to get to work with my collaborators.

♪♪ So, that's what a director does.

Or, at least, what this director does.

I was lucky to be born when I was and I'm lucky to work at something I love.

♪♪ When I think about it, my life's work has been focused on the black box.

I imagined what would fill it up and I guess it's been full.

♪♪ -Hal's legacy is going to be the idea of the seamless musical, that the look of the production was the real servant of the material.

The idea where anything is possible.

-In a hundred years, when people look back at the breadth of the American musical theater they're gonna say, 'Hal Prince started it and it went from there.'

♪♪ -Under Hal's influence, the musical theater grew up.

-It's a very impressive record.

The level of collaborators he worked with and the new talent he found and nurtured.

-Hal gave most of us more than we ever dreamed of getting our whole lives, which was more than just a break.

He invited us into the room.

♪♪ -He has changed the course of the American musical and so, for all of us, now, to be carried on Hal's shoulders, to now go forward and try something new, we can only do that now because we have Hal in our back pocket.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Whimsical chord strikes ] -So, this show will open as follows: You walk into the theater.

You sit down.

There's no show curtain and that's pitch-black.

There's nothing there at all.

[ Laughter ] Okay. Now, we go from that, seamlessly, to what was perfumery, which was 'She Loves Me,' and there's a bench and a lamppost.

They always say I was lucky and -- and luck is enormous.

It's not deprecating. It's the truth.

Because you're all here because of something that happened much earlier in your lives.

I know it because it happened to me.

And, suddenly, there's a moment when you want to express yourself.

It's very important to me that it's the artistic element that grabs us.

It's that commitment to creating something.

I -- I can't tell you how happy I am with this company and I'm very excited, so.

[ Bright tune climbs, chord strikes ] [ Applause ] ♪♪