May 22, 2024

Contradictions or What I Learned From Harold Prince

By James A. Rocco

"I love big, bold, truthful theatre." – Harold Prince

In the theatre world, few names resound as luminously as Harold Prince. With a career that redefined not only Broadway but also the art of storytelling itself, Prince cemented his legacy as a giant in the industry. His book, Contradictions: Notes on Twenty-six Years in the Theatre, serves as a memoir and a masterclass in producing and directing. It offers an unparalleled glimpse into the mind of a genius who dared to dream differently. 

This book indelibly impacted my early years as a director/producer. To this day, it has remained an essential guide for me. I regard this work not merely as a book but as a manifesto. This beacon galvanized me to muster the courage to diverge from the traveled path, explore unique endeavors, and stimulate intellectual conversation.

It broadened my perspective, leading me to reevaluate the essence of musical theater and, more precisely, the innovative realm of jukebox musicals. This pivotal text did not just alter my professional trajectory; it reshaped my theoretical understanding of what musicals can aspire to be, challenging me to question and redefine the boundaries of the genre.

Contradictions Indeed!

Jukebox musicals are often relegated to the category of simple entertainment. However, dismissing them as merely enjoyable distractions means overlooking their profound impact on audiences and their potential to engage a loyal audience.

These productions weave well-known songs into compelling narratives and uniquely evoke deep-rooted, shared memories by uniting generations in an unparalleled communal experience. And it is this dynamic connection that can turn your theatre season into a success. 

Understanding the Appeal of Jukebox Musicals

Jukebox musicals excel in striking a chord that resonates across demographics. 

They remind us of our first love, the heartache of saying goodbye, or the joy of cherished moments—all through a soundtrack of familiar hits that we associate with various chapters of our lives. 

This nostalgic connection transforms the theatre experience from a passive viewing into an active, emotional journey shared with a room full of people. 

You can leverage the potent pull of nostalgia by curating a season that includes a jukebox musical filled with the songs your audience knows and loves. These productions can be promoted as more than shows. 

Position them as a collective trip down memory lane and watch your ticket sales and audience loyalty grow. This approach not only draws in diverse audiences but also fosters a sense of intergenerational unity.

And speaking of intergenerational unity, here's another thing I learned:

"By your students, you are taught." 

–Oscar Hammerstein

One of the key themes that emerge throughout "Contradictions" is the importance of collaboration. Combining diverse creative talents will challenge conventional storytelling and open a production to new visions. 

My experience with a determined young director illustrates the power of trust and encouragement in the creative process. 

Despite my initial skepticism, they persisted in trying a challenging stage effect that I had never seen work. Although I voiced my concerns, they remained unwavering in their conviction that they could bring this vision to life. So, I decided to allow this young artist to follow their inspiration. Impressively, by the time opening night arrived, the effect was functioning flawlessly. It not only significantly elevated the production but also gave me a valuable lesson in innovation and teamwork. 

This experience underscores an essential truth: by opening our stages to new ideas and collaborative spirit, we set the stage for thrilling developments in our industry.

So, let me emphasize this contradictory lesson. It's a message that, in today's theatre landscape, rings more accurate than ever. Opening your doors to new and unheard voices, combined with teamwork and nostalgia, will break traditional boundaries and lead to astonishing new possibilities. 

“The success of your theatre lies in recognizing the intrinsic value of leveraging the power of nostalgia, deeply engaging audiences and harnessing the creative potential of diverse collaborative work.” 

– James Rocco

The success of your theatre lies in recognizing the intrinsic value of leveraging the power of nostalgia, deeply engaging audiences and harnessing the creative potential of diverse collaborative work. 

These strategies, rooted in blending the well-known with the innovative, promise not just to enhance ticket sales and loyalty but to enrich the cultural landscape of your community. By creating a theatrical hub of creativity, nostalgia, and belonging, you invite audiences to be part of something truly extraordinary.

So go out there and create fearlessly. Create theatre that ignites the imagination, stirs the soul, and leaves an indelible mark on our culture and hearts. 

See you at the theatre,


James A. Rocco

CEO | Thirty Saints Productions