HIS name is printed below the title: Phantom Of The Opera, directed by Harold Prince. Andrew Lloyd Webber may be the household name, but on Broadway he is the great Prince Hal, the biggest director of them all, the man who gave the musical both class and credentials. Phantom is his 51st musical, the most financially successful production in a peerless musical resume ranging from Cabaret and Evita to Fiddler On The Roof. And Phantom, which has broken almost every record in theatrical history, will no doubt guarantee Prince the place in posterity he has always craved. It has been seen by more than 34 million people worldwide, more than Jurassic Park, and sold US$12 million (HK$92.7 million) worth of tickets before it had even opened on Broadway in 1986. But awards and good box office are ephemeral rewards for a director who takes innovation as seriously as Prince does. He wants to be remembered for ever as a man who changed things. The legendary director feels a perverse ambivalence about his single biggest success. At a recent press conference to open the Singapore production of Phantom, the same show that opens here on June 16, he sat perched between two high-powered producers as they rattled off dazzling statistics about Phantom merchandising and record sales - 30 million copies of the original soundtrack CD sold worldwide, some 13 productions of the show running even now, nearly 10 years after the show first opened. By contrast, Prince was jovial and irreverent, a white-bearded gnome of a man in a crumpled linen jacket and loafers, with his trademark pair of glasses pushed back on his head. 'When I am sitting in a room surrounded by producers and I hear that they sold 30 million copies of this or that, I don't relate to any of that, I really don't,' he says after the producers have gone. 'I relate to how many people have seen the show, I understand the show has taken me to Amsterdam, to Stockholm, to Vienna, Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong; that I relate to. 'The facts and figures are not that interesting. In fact, I am even a bit superstitious about them, they are reverse interesting to me,' he confesses. 'For one thing, I'm not that different from anyone else who watches a phenomenon like this. Such extremes reduce the degree of respect you have for the work. 'I mean the novel which sells millions can't be as well written as the novel that sells only a few thousand. I am prey to that too.' Prince built a reputation for making innovative, money-spinning musicals with unlikely themes. In fact, he showed he could make a musical on just about anything. His first production, The Pajama Game in 1954, revolved around a strike in garment factory. There was romance - between a foreman and a union representative - but strife on the shop floor was a bold subject for a medium traditionally based on glitz, dance routines and boy meets girl. A violent gang war became one of the all-time classic love stories, West Side Story in 1957. Then in Fiddler On The Roof, he turned to the Jewish community who had escaped the pogroms, and later adapted an Ingmar Bergman film to make A Little Night Music with long-time collaborator Stephen Sondheim in 1973. His first collaboration with Lloyd Webber, Evita in 1979, told the story of Eva Peron who, with husband Juan, instituted a police state in Argentina. A middle-class Jew, son of a stockbroker, the young Prince long aspired to the theatre. He started his career at 20, as an unpaid assistant to the greatest musical director of his time, the late George Abbott. It was Abbott who helped and encouraged him, a seminal influence on the ambitious beginner. 'He was a giant, and when a giant looks at you and says, you are a director at age 25, it is very, very important. It gives you the courage to go on,' Prince recalls. These days it is hard to imagine the charming 67-year-old royal of musical theatre being unnerved by anything, but stories about his nerves before each new show are legend. Still, he went on to produce and direct show after show, winning armfuls of awards, the grudging admiration of his elders - and the respectful awe of a new generation of theatre directors. Prince has won 19 Tonys for 54 shows, all of which, he hopes, have tried something new. But taking risks hasn't always paid off. Some of the shows Prince is most proud of were commercial disasters. He distinguishes between a 'hit' and a success, a flop and a failure. Some, notably Phantom, are both, but many broke the rules - and the bank. In Pacific Overtures, created in 1976 with Stephen Sondheim, he told the story of America's first contacts with Japan using the kabuki theatre form. The show had mixed reviews and lost all of the US$650,000 it then cost to put on, but Prince still rates it as one of his finest achievements. 'I think the reason I have a reputation is not because of the successes, the hits, at all. The reputation is formed by the shows that were not hits, that were attempts, and broke new ground and took some chances. 'Pacific Overtures for certain. Coca-Cola brought it and showed it [in Tokyo] for the United States 1976 bicentenary celebrations and said this is what we do. So when I went to Tokyo, everybody knew what I had done, and had seen it.' Other works dealt with such controversial subjects that Prince was sometimes unsure of himself. In Evita, which was criticised for glamorising fascism, Prince felt he was demonstrating the very techniques Peron used to manipulate Argentina. But he knew he was treading a difficult path. 'Evita I found very dangerous,' he recalls. 'The day before last rehearsal I was mostly to be found hiding under my bed, saying 'What I am doing? I must be crazy, I've never seen anything like that, how do you do a show like that'.' But when Phantom came up in 1985, it was after a rather bleak period in Hal Prince's career - seven commercial failures in a row. 'I think everything has turned out for the best in my life. I think one needs an abrasive and traumatic period and then, with some luck and perseverance, maybe a Phantom Of The Opera will come along,' he told his biographer Carol Ilson in 1988. Phantom not only guaranteed financial security for Prince for ever, but he found the process of putting the show together a pleasure. Looking back to rehearsals, he remembers everything fitting together like clockwork, and a less than gruelling schedule. 'It was the reverse of Evita; it was unimaginably uncomplicated. I never saw the cast in the afternoon, I never changed anything. And on the day of the big rehearsal, one of the cast came and said, 'I have been delegated to ask: What do you do in the afternoon?' And I said I watch soap operas, I never worked beyond one in the afternoon. You could say I am grossly overpaid. It was a dream spinning out that way,' he recalls. Now, nearly 10 years after the original Phantom Of The Opera opened in London, and having moved on to work on other hits such as Kiss Of The Spiderwoman and Showboat, Prince still takes much pride in the staging of the show. His lightning visit to Singapore was to check that everything ran to his exact specifications. The Prince directing style is very hands on for technical direction, and hands off for the actors. 'I like good actors,' he says. 'With a good actor, you are an editor; when it is a bad actor you are a drama teacher. And there you are with 35 or 40 people and you have to make them think they are all equally talented; but they aren't. The idea is to make them seem like an ensemble. I provide what I think they need to get that effect. 'But I don't give much leeway when it comes to visuals, I am very strict about that. I love all that, I love scenery and lighting and costumes, and I feel very secure there.' Prince's original inspiration for the love triangle between the disfigured Phantom, pretty Christine and handsome Raoul, came from a BBC film about the sexuality of the physically disabled. He remains enthusiastic about the romance of the story, but has become a little jaded with some of the stage highlights. Grilled by reporters on disastrous technical hitches on the first few nights in Singapore's Kallang Theatre, Prince declared himself relieved that for once the talk was not all about his spectacular falling chandelier. The night before the chandelier had failed to crash when it was supposed to, leaving the actors floundering and the audience bemused. 'The irony in this is that I am sick of reading about the chandelier,' he says. 'It is not magic to bring the chandelier down; the magic is to make a man jump from a bridge into a lake. That is what theatre is about, especially with live audiences.' Along with the sumptuous costumes and set, Prince's use of traditional trickery is what makes Phantom impressive even if Lloyd Webber's tunes are not to your taste. Characters disappear and pop up again on the other side of the stage with amazing speed, for example, and walk through mirrors before which they were preening themselves only minutes earlier. When Prince turned to these old-fashioned illusions, he went against the theatrical trend for what London critic Michael Billington called 'the mechanisation, obvious dehumanisation' of such hi-tech shows as Starlight Express and Time. The gamble paid off: critics and audiences fell for old dressed as new, over the laser wizardry used in other shows. Yet it was a risk Prince took in London, far away from his home base. This was no coincidence. Despite the huge success of Phantom, which guaranteed backing for whatever project Prince next turns his hand to, the King of Broadway musicals is worried about the future of American musical theatre. All his new shows since then have started either off Broadway, or abroad in Canada or Britain. Although there are three Prince shows - Kiss Of The Spiderwoman, Phantom and Showboat - selling out on Broadway this year, he does not have much faith in its future as a centre of innovation and fresh talent. The cost of staging a musical has become so prohibitive that young, unknown directors no longer have the chance to prove themselves. 'I don't think Broadway is the place where you can start anymore. But off-Broadway isn't the answer either because it is too small,' Prince says. 'Musicals are meant to be whatever size they are supposed to be,' he argues. If A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (one of his early hits) works on a small stage, it is because it meant to be small, he says, while Showboat is large because it is meant to be large. 'I did the first show with Sondheim, the first show with Kander and Ebb, Fiddler On The Roof, with so many people who are really the grist to the last 30 years of Broadway musicals. And almost all the first shows were failures, but it didn't matter.' In those days, Prince said, commercial disasters could be critical successes, new talent emerged because they had the chance to learn from their mistakes. Now it is so expensive to stage a production that newcomers have but one chance, if at all. There is a strange irony in the way that Hal Prince, the most commercially successful of musical directors, invests so much energy lobbying for new productions to be subsidised. But it is a subject he is truly passionate about. The King of Broadway fears he will leave no heirs, he is the last of a line.