August 5, 2019
Hal Prince was the greatest producer/director of the American theatre of the past century with an unprecedented 21 Tony Awards to his credit. He passed away on July 31, 2019 at the age of 91. I was honoured to be his producing partner in London for three decades. He was a revered and honoured friend.
Our sympathies go out to his wife, Judy, and their children, Daisy and Charles.
In 1962, Tony Walton called me, “Richard, can you come to New York? Hal Prince wants you to do the scene projection for a new Broadway show, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
My first ever trip to America! Unbelievable! Harold Prince, producer of West Side Story, Fiorello, Pajama Game, and other hits! Amazing!
The show was a big hit, and Hal asked Tony and I whether we’d be interested in being his London producing partners to repeat its success. We said yes!
Thus began a partnership that lasted decades. We produced A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Frankie Howard, She Loves Me with Annie Rogers and Gary Raymond, Fiddler on the Roof, which discovered Topol, Cabaret starring Judi Dench, Company with Elaine Stritch, and A Little Night Music with Jean Simmons. We brought Steve Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, and Bock and Harnick to Britain.
Theatre Projects evolved from being a small lighting, sound design, and rental company to become a major West End producer, at one time with five shows running simultaneously. In addition to shows from Broadway, we also pioneered bringing productions from regional theatre into London. We introduced Ian McKellen to stardom with Edward II and Richard II, playwight Peter Barnes with his The Ruling Class, Alan Bennett with Sir John Gielgud and Forty Years On, musicals Erb and The Good Companions with John Mills and Judi Dench, and Catch My Soul, plays Journey's End, Charlie's Aunt, and She Stoops to Conquer with Tom Courtney, I’m Not Rappaport starring Paul Schofield, and more.
But Hal’s innovative productions led the pack. The influence and constant originality of his work powerfully impacted the British musical too and presaged the explosion of the British-born musical led by Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Hal was the consummate professional. He demanded and received only the best from his team I was also honoured to be the first UK lighting designer on Broadway for his new musical, Zorba, with designer Boris Aronson. Then, in the 90s, I was his lighting designer again for his epic revival of the great classic Show Boat, designed by Eugene Lee, then the largest show to sail onto Broadway.
Hal taught me almost everything about how major theatre worked, he expanded my horizons from lighting to everything else—budgeting, casting, marketing. He and his colleagues were the best. I rapidly came to admire the extraordinary skills of Broadway. Most importantly he taught me about audiences. Without them we had naught. Countless hours watching them taught you everything about the essentials of theatre—actor and audience.
So, for Theatre Projects, he massively expanded our horizons and we met the most skilled figures in the American theatre—writers, composers, performers, designers, and technicians. Eventually, also with Hal’s encouragement, we entered America as theatre design consultants and became true Americans.
Thank you, Hal, you were a constant source of inspiration. Your passion and influence will be long remembered.
In 1962, I also met Sir Laurence Olivier. That began another long and life-changing experience. From being his lighting designer with the new National Theatre Company for the first decade, to being theatre consultant to the new Denys Lasdun building on the South Bank.
I guess I—and Theatre Projects—were very, very, very lucky.
Richard Pilbrow, August 2, 2019