Sense of Occasion by Harold Prince: review
Going to the theatre should always be an occasion, something special, different, say, from going to the cinema, the movies or going shopping.
That the combined efforts of a handful or dozens of individual persons to present a live show, something in the moment and fleeting make a special occasion is something that I completely agree with and the title of Harold Prince´s 2017 book is entirely appropriate. It harks back to Henry Purcell and his colleagues in 17th century London who referred to their work in the theatre as Spectacle and Entertainment, something very much out of the ordinary.
The first part of Sense of Occasion is a reprint of his earlier book: Contradictions, Notes on 26 years in the theatre from 1974 with commentary and self evaluation on that earlier book. That the time in question includes ground breaking works such as West Side Story should give a clear enough hint that this is no small time endeavour.
The remainder of the book is a collection of Mr Prince´s experiences over seven decades of success in the theatre and especially in musical theatre. I was drawn to this book by reading Andrew Lloyd Webbers´s Memoir and the quintessentially English Sir Andrew ´s experiences of collaborating with the totally American Mr Prince.
I came to the book as an admirer: I have enjoyed Evita and Phantom of the Opera and have seen both several times both in London and New York. So, imagine my surprise at learning that not everything Mr Prince touched turned to gold.
“Not every show is going to work, and in a long career you have to expect disappointments” he says in the opening sentence to Chapter 32. How can it be that the producer/director of magnificent pieces such as West Side Story, Evita, Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd, and so many more successes, can also turn in some shows that were commercial and/or critical disasters?