'Parade' reaffirms passion of Prince of Broadway stage
By Linda Romine
Special to The Commercial Appeal
What makes a good musical?
"Quality material, quality
interpretation, taste and talent,"
answers Harold `Hal' Prince, who
Over the past four decades, Prince's
name has become synonymous with
the Broadway stage, including 55
musicals. Since 1962, the veteran
theatrical director and producer has
been behind such popular shows as
Fiddler On the Roof, A Funny Thing
Happened On the Way to the Forum,
West Side Story, Damn Yankees, and The Pajama Game.
And the list goes on, with such heavy-hitting productions as Show Boat,
Kiss of the Spiderwoman, The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Sweeney
Todd, Candide, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Follies, Company,
Cabaret, and She Loves Me.
"Taste comes from all the collaborators," says Prince, speaking by
phone recently from his office in New York City. "It can also come from
the audience. When the audience expresses good taste - by
demanding substance from the material - that's wonderful, too. But
they don't always.
"I don't want to sound like a scold," the director continues, "but I'm
grateful when the material, the production, and the audience really
meet on a level that you can be proud of. It happens."
Happily, it happens in Prince's latest effort, Parade. It is based on the
true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager in Atlanta who in
1913 was wrongly convicted of murdering 13-year-old Mary Phagan.
The courtroom drama-cum-romantic musical, which won two 1999 Tony
Awards for Jason Robert Brown's musical score and Alfred Uhry's
musical book, is a murder mystery that also spotlights the loyalties and
love between Leo and his wife, Lucille. Another undercurrent running
through the musical is that of changing attitudes about such issues as
race and social status in the turn-of-the-century American South.
Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Uhry, author of Driving Miss Daisy,
Parade is a celebrated musical that made a false start. Despite critical
acclaim, the production closed within months due to reconstruction at
the Lincoln Center Vivian Beaumont Theatre, where the musical had
originally opened. Because of his strong belief in Parade, Prince, who
had co-conceived the idea for the musical, committed himself to
restaging the production.
And what better venue to reopen the musical than in Atlanta, where
the story's events took place nearly a century ago?
After its premiere in that city this month, the Broadway-bound touring
production of Parade travels to the Orpheum in Memphis. Performances
run from June 20-25. For ticket information, call the Orpheum at
525-3000 or Ticketmaster at 743-ARTS.
While those who saw the first version of Parade may notice some
tweaking, Prince emphasizes that the differences are subtle. "I made
some judicious cuts in the first act - cutting some things I loved but
which I thought might be a bit indulgent," he says.
Another serendipitous inspiration occurred in the revamp process. "In
looking at the second act, I said to the authors, `My God! We have a
second-act opening number, but we don't get to it until 10 minutes
into the second act!' Everybody smiled," Prince says, recalling others'
response to his brainstorm. "So we changed it and made it the
opening of the second act."
The results have paid off, judging by audience reaction.
"We've had a series of invited run-throughs here in New York," he
says, "and they have resulted in a couple of performances. The
numbers which before were OK, suddenly got a rousing reaction,"
Prince explains. "I suppose it's akin to what film directors do. It's a
very potent experience for someone who directs."
Prince has directed two films: Something For Everyone and A Little Night
For the stage, his directing credits have included The Visit, The Great
God Brown and End of the World. Prince also penned the play Grandchild
of Kings, which was staged off-Broadway. In addition, he has directed
operatic productions with the world's leading companies, including the
Metropolitan Opera, The Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera,
Vienna Staatsoper and the Theatre Colon in Buenos Aires. Prince is
also currently connected with three North American productions of
Show Boat, as well as 11 international productions of
The Phantom of the Opera.
Not surprisingly, Prince has assembled a stable of actors and other
colleagues with whom he regularly works.
"In this case, it's a marvelous company," he says of Parade. Its cast
includes longtime colleagues Prince refers to as "old standbys in good,
featured roles." He mentions John Leslie Wolfe and John Vosburgh,
two actors Prince has employed off and on for the past two decades.
"I have a bunch of wonderful actors," he says.
"The two leads are also quite amazing," Prince adds.
The musical stars David Pittu and Andrea Burns as Leo and Lucille
Frank. Pittu most recently appeared in a touring production of Titanic.
His off-Broadway work includes Dangerous Corner, directed by David
Mamet; Lanford Wilson's Sympathetic Magic; The Lights at Lincoln
Center; and Three Postcards at Circle Rep. He is a member of the
Atlantic Theater company, where his work as a director includes
Kaufman & Hart's Once in a Lifetime.
Burns, meanwhile, has starred in touring productions of Evita, 1776,
Company, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Recently, she appeared in
the New York premiere of Stephen Sondheim's Saturday Night and also
co-starred with Elaine Stritch in Noel Coward's Sail Away at Carnegie
Hall. Broadway roles include Belle in Beauty and the Beast, and
off-Broadway she performed in Brown's Songs for a New World at the
Prince's daughter, Daisy Chaplin, directed that show, and introduced
her father to Brown. Prince was impressed with the 23-year-old. "He's
amazing. I brought him this show Alfred (Uhry) brought to me," Prince
says, referring to Parade. And he got a Tony for it."
Prince believes in mentoring. "We have not done well in the commercial
theater with the next generation of composers and librettists," he
says. "We have not nurtured them the way we were by our
antecedents. It has been very much on my mind that we need to pass
the torch, musically."
Prince himself has won some 20 Tony Awards. He was also a 1994
recipient of the lifetime achievement Kennedy Center Honors in
Washington. Born in New York, Prince is 72 years old. "I'm numerically
72, but it makes absolutely no sense to me," he says with a laugh,
"because I feel like much younger."
Parade is representative of his overall career, he explains. "My
reputation is largely based on musical theater that tells a story, which
in this case I think is very fascinating," he says of Parade. " It's about a
crisis period in American history, a period that we've put behind us and
learned from. We should be very proud of where such events took us,
and how much we've learned.
"It's an amazing system, American democracy," Prince continues. "I
mean, everything about it - even with all its flaws - it is unparalleled."
Prince's upcoming projects include a not-yet-titled work that marks his
first collaboration with Sondheim in 19 years, he says. Another friend,
Carol Burnett, and her daughter Carrie Hamilton have co-written a play
that Prince wants to direct. "It's a drama with a lot of comedy in it,"
Prince says, adding that the co-authors do not plan to star in the
Prince realizes that each show takes time, but the rewards are worth
"Getting a show on is a long journey," he says. "There are signposts
along the way. And I think Parade is one of my favorite shows. I knew
this the other day. I knew again why - because . . . working and
creating an art form is about the pleasure you get working in
collaboration with . . . the authors (and) the actors. And this one is just
so satisfying. It reaffirms why I've spent my life doing what I've done."
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