Carol Burnett leading campaign to rename theater for Hal Prince

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Carol Burnett leading campaign to rename theater for Hal Prince
Hal Prince, left, with Andrew Lloyd Webber at a performance of “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Majestic Theater in New York, Jan. 9, 2006. Carol Burnett is hoping to use what influence she has to persuade Broadway's bigwigs to rename the theater after the legendary director and producer Prince. Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

by Michael Paulson

NEW YORK, NY.- Carol Burnett doesn’t own a Broadway theater. But she does have a long resume, a lot of friends and fans, and an Instagram account. And now she is hoping to use what influence she has to persuade Broadway's bigwigs to rename a theater after the legendary director and producer Hal Prince.

Burnett, speaking in a telephone interview, said that last week’s announcement of the impending closing of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which Prince directed and is the longest-running show in Broadway history, prompted her unexpected activism. She said she has come to believe that the Majestic Theater, which has housed “Phantom” for the entire 35 years of its run, should bear Prince’s name.

“Hal not only had the longest-running show, but he had 21 Tony Awards, and now that ‘Phantom’ is closing, what a great way to honor him,” she said. “It should have been done a long time ago.”

On Wednesday, she posted a short Instagram video urging the renaming, and called on others to do the same. Among those supporting her efforts: Chita Rivera and Kristin Chenoweth. “He changed the face of musical theater,” Chenoweth said in an email. “Changes are happening, and this is one he’d be so proud of.” Rivera agreed, saying in an email: “Hal was such a visionary director and producer as well as an extraordinary human being. It is so vitally important to keep his flame burning.”

Prince, who died in 2019 at the age of 91, was among the most significant figures in Broadway history, directing not only “Phantom” but also “Cabaret” and a string of Sondheim musicals, from “Company” to “Sweeney Todd.” He also directed a 2002 play called “Hollywood Arms,” which was based on Burnett’s memoir.

Burnett, 89, said she considered Prince “a dear friend” and felt the time was right for Broadway (where she won a special Tony Award for contributions to the theater in 1969) to name a theater for him. “The Majestic is fit for a Prince,” she said, test-driving a slogan she hopes will catch on. The project is being coordinated by Eila Mell, a writer who just co-wrote a book about Broadway set design.

Plenty of people have had ideas and suggestions about whose names should be added, or subtracted, from Broadway’s 41 theaters, and the decisions are up to the theater owners and operators. This year, two renamings are already underway — last week the Cort was renamed the James Earl Jones, and this fall the Brooks Atkinson is to be renamed after Lena Horne — both moves prompted by an agreement between theater owners and Black Theater United to name some buildings for Black artists.

The Shubert Organization, which operates the Majestic Theater, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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