What's New on the Rialto
Interview with Faith Prince
By Beth Herstein
When Faith Prince was in the first grade, she asked her mother if she could perform in the school talent show. "I could tell she was sort of nervous about it," Prince recalls in a telephone interview with Talkin' Broadway. "She asked, What do you think you'd want to do?' My teacher had given me a poem to read. It was about a Raggedy Ann doll." Her mother made her an outfit for the performance. "Then, she took my tennis shoes and cut a hole in the back of one, and put in sawdust. And, at the last line, I shook the shoe and the sawdust came out."
Prince won second place in the show, but more importantly, she learned an invaluable lesson. "I remember vividly being on the stage and being incredibly comfortable." She continued to pursue a performing arts career, playing one of the children in a Virginia production of The King and I, and eventually morphing, as she likes to say, into a solo singer, comedian and actor.
In the years since, Faith Prince has become a well-loved and well-respected actor in New York theater. She was nominated for a Tony Award for her first featured role on the Broadway stage, in the 1989 production Jerome Robbins' Broadway. Four years later she won the Tony, along with a number of other honors, for her performance as Miss Adelaide in the popular 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls. With Guys and Dolls came a flurry of fame. Of that period, Prince says, "Mostly my memories are of a deer in the headlights. It was so blinding at the time, it was even hard to enjoy it. I had to keep myself up for eight shows a week, plus I was doing all this publicity. I remember being completely exhausted." Given the choice, she says she wouldn't seek that kind of success again. "Honestly, going where you can't have a life, that's just not me. I like being just famous enough [to keep working], and to keep growing and changing."
After Guys and Dolls, Prince had plenty of opportunity to do exactly that. She worked in smaller venues such as lower Manhattan's Drama Dept., where she starred in the comedy The Torch-Bearers with David Garrison and Marion Seldes, and got back to basics. It reminded her of why she got into acting, she recalls. In 2001, Prince brought Bells are Ringing back to the New York stage, reprising a part made famous by one of her heroes, Judy Holliday. Although the show closed after only three months, it garnered Prince her third Tony nomination, her first as lead actress.
She soon found another role on Broadway, in the ensemble comedy Noises Off by playwright Michael Frayn. Noises Off was a physically challenging role. "I remember the first time I did my run - down the steps, up the steps, down the steps, up the steps. [Actor] Edward Hibbert looked at me and said, Darling, you're blue.'" She laughs, "I said, You try to do it. Let me see what color you are.'"
The show "got to be sort of a well-oiled machine," Prince recalls, "but it's not an easy show to do. In something like Guys and Dolls, you have your main leads and your character people, but there are payoffs for every single character. So, at the end of the night, no matter how small the role is, the actor feels great. In Noises Off, you're working together as a unit, but each character does not have a complete payoff." Although, as Frayn told her, she found a payoff for her character (Belinda) that he never saw before, Prince nonetheless found the show frustrating at times. Still, she states, "I'm certainly glad I did it. And, I love Michael Frayn. I think he's a brilliant writer."
Since Noises Off, Prince has not appeared on Broadway. This is because sadly, for New Yorkers she and her family moved to Los Angeles last year in order to settle into a more stable home life. In New York, "people call you up for things and then you're working eight shows a week even when you're not in a Broadway show," Prince explains. Her husband, trumpet player Larry Lunetta, was also doing theater. Though the two of them kept family life as normal as possible, having dinners at regular hours and retaining the same nanny for eight years, it wasn't enough. "I never felt like I had enough time for my son. He really wanted me to be home at night and talk about the day. It was really important to him. I was afraid those years would get away from me, and I would turn around and be really regretful. I don't like to live my life that way."
So they decided to move to California and see if their lifestyle would be different there. "We don't have a nanny anymore, and one of us is always home." Instead of theater, Prince has her eye on television and the movies jobs that have long hours but generally get her home at night.
So far, the parts have been coming. She's in an upcoming independent film, Our Very Own, with Allison Janney, Cheryl Hines and Keith Carradine. She appeared in an episode of the Fox series House. She also played a killer in the USA hit Monk ("I'm the Kathy Bates of the USA channel," she jokes), and she has a recurring role in the new Showtime series, Huff. "I was lucky, finding the people at Huff, Bob Lowry, who is the executive producer, and working with those incredible actors like Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria and Blythe Danner. I found a tribe of people I could relate to."
Prince finds it hilarious that the character she plays on Huff, Kelly, a character well past her 20s, still works as a clerk at Best Buy. After a wild fling with Oliver Platt's character Russell Tupper ("I told my mother, You just can't watch this one,'" Prince laughs), Kelly returned to the show, pregnant with Tupper's child. "You might think, what's so great about that? My age. They didn't take a 26-year-old to do that. It became much more complex than anybody had realized." She also found that the scenes in the later episodes challenged her dramatically. "I was at the top of my game, like a racehorse just out of the gate. I was using everything I'd ever learned about comedy and tragedy. It was just phenomenal." The producers of Huff have told Prince that they've already decided to bring Kelly back in the next season.
Despite her current film and television success, Prince states that she'll never give up live performing because it's part of who she is. One way she's getting her "live energy out" these days is through a six-week tour (Over the Rainbow) with actor/singer Tom Wopat that is dedicated to the music of Harold Arlen. The main drawback is that the schedule 36 cities over the course of 6 weeks is so brutal that she has to remind herself what city she's in on any given day. "Sometimes I have to really think to remember what day it is," she says. "Funny how you can really get turned around like that. You don't really understand it until you do it."
Overall, though, it has been a positive experience. The show, she says, has gone extremely well; she's had a great time with the entire ensemble, whom she describes as a fine group of people as well as a talented one. Wopat is a longtime friend with whom she's performed in the past. In fact, the tour came about in part because they were looking for a project to do together. As for the focus on Arlen, Prince explains that 2005 is the centennial of Arlen's birth. In addition, Wopat was going to do a Harold Arlen album, and it seemed like good material for the show. "It has such good material ... blues, jazz, Broadway, cotton club, movie [soundtracks] ... there's just a lot of variety."
In addition to Prince and Wopat, the tour features Barbara Morrison, a blues/jazz singer from Los Angeles who has sung with legendary ensembles from the Count Basie Orchestra to the Doc Severinsen Big Band; vocalist Loston Harris, who regularly performs at Manhattan's Carlyle Hotel, and who has played piano with Wynton Marsalis' Jazz Orchestra; and, a quintet of well respected jazz musicians. Singing with a jazz ensemble has been an education for Prince. "In jazz, you know, [the musicians] solo for four or eight bars. I wasn't used to that. Someone said to me, Hum the melody along with them and you'll know where they are.' For the first few performances, I had every musician onstage looking at me, shaking their heads, going 'not yet, not yet' " until it was her turn to sing.
As a solo act, Prince continues to perform her cabaret show A Leap of Faith, which she originated at Joe's Pub and subsequently released on CD. At the end of Over the Rainbow, Prince will record a big band symphonic album. Her husband who regularly performs in her solo show will be featured on trumpet. "He's a great jazz soloist, and he went to school with Gordon Goodwin, who writes a lot of music for film and TV, and who has a big band himself," Prince states. "I've always admired his writing, and I've been trying to do this for the last five years and we're finally going to get that together. The albums that inspired me include Lush Life, the Linda Ronstadt album. Nelson Riddle [arranged] that entire album for her. I've always liked that concept, it's kind of a one-point-of-view journey. So Gordon's going to do that for me, and I'm going to record it in L.A." The CD should be ready for release sometime this fall.
Prince sees a lot of potential in the New York theater these days. She finds that actors like Sutton Foster are especially promising. "I like funny personalities, but I also like the pathos, and I also like to go for the depth. I like that range, which I actually think Sutton could do as well. But, there are so many brilliant performers around." At the same time, when asked about the difficulty many actors have found surviving in theater these days, she responds, "Theater has gone more of a corporate global route. We've gotten too global for our own good. We haven't honed the small things that gave theater its uniqueness and its artistry. I certainly felt that toward the last few years that I lived right there. And, maybe that contributed to my decision to leave New York. I thought, Ok, I've got to morph into different things now.'"
Prince feels pragmatic rather than regretful about the decision to leave New York for Los Angeles. "I'm of a mindset that, whatever the game is, you have to find a way to play it that is positive. The survival part of me goes, This is the chess game. So, where do I move my set pieces?' Not, I wish it were another game.' Within that, I've tried to be creative and positive, not jaded, keep finding the passion in different ways. But, it certainly has made me soar into and try other things, and bungee jump in ways I never imagined."
For more information, visit FaithPrince.com.
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