In a corner of my office, in a spot where no one else can see, hangs a letter addressed to me dated May 17, 2000 “from the desk of Harold Prince.”
It reminds me of two things . . . the day that changed my life . . . and the man who changed my life.
That man was that master theatermaker Harold Prince, who has just passed away at the age of 91.
I was lucky enough to be ‘in the room where Hal happens’ three times in my career . . . the revivals of Show Boat and Candide and the early workshops of Parade.
And I remember being dumbstruck by his ability to see things that weren’t there . . . yet. He conducted his shows like they were orchestras, but instead of instruments, he waved his arms at scenery, singers, songs, and the most important element . . . story. And oh, what art emerged . . . .
Art like Sweeney, Company, and Cabaret, to mention just a few of the titles that won him his record-breaking 21 Tony Awards . . . and of course, Phantom, which may outlast us all.
Many may not remember that he was a Producer first, helping to make hits out of Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, and West Side Story. And he was a Stage Manager before that . . . even during that! (I think it was the Pajama Game where his name was above the title and he was on the deck as an ASM!)
In the 90s, Hal wrote an article about how there were no more creative producers anymore . . . which is when I reached out and said, “That’s what I want to be! Can you help me?”
He invited me to his office to talk. Actually, first, he just wanted to listen . . . to my ideas! Can you believe that? Hal effin’ Prince wanted to hear from me! (And in that letter he wrote me that hangs on my wall, he told me that my ideas were “on the mark,” – something that I re-read often – especially when an idea I have doesn’t work. He reminds me that I’ll have another one that will soon enough.)
But what changed my life in that meeting was him telling me to STOP talking. And start doing. If I wanted to be a Producer, I needed to produce . . . something . . . anything. “DO something,” he said. “Don’t come out of the box trying to produce West Side Story. Be happy if your first show is The Pajama Game. But produce something.”
So I did. I started on a little show THAT afternoon, which became The Awesome 80s Prom and started the snowball rolling down the hill of my entire career (I write a lot about this whole story here.)
I’ll be forever grateful to Hal for changing the American Theater into what it is today. He revolutionized our art form. He revolutionized our business. He was a true Art-reprenuer.
But I’ll be even more grateful for changing my life . . . as he did for so many of us that have grown up in this business.
I won’t say rest in peace, because I know he won’t. What I do know is that there is going to be one helluva new show in heaven.
Oh, and if you admire Hal’s work, and want to honor him . . . I’d suggest that you take the advice he gave me. And do something. I bet he’ll know.
To the King.
If you would like to learn more about the legend and be inspired to make great theater or great anything of your own, I urge you to read his memoir.