From Guys and Dolls to Little Mermaid, Tony Winner Faith Prince’s 5 Most Memorable Nights Onstage

Diva Talk   From Guys and Dolls to Little Mermaid, Tony Winner Faith Prince’s 5 Most Memorable Nights Onstage
 
The dynamic actor reminisces about her award-winning theatrical career and also reveals her upcoming stage role.
Faith Prince
Faith Prince
Faith Prince in <i>A Catered Affair</i>
Faith Prince in A Catered Affair

I often jokingly refer to Faith Prince as a deceptive actor. A thrilling musical comedy performer—often garnering laughs when there are seemingly none to be had—when you watch Prince as Guys and Dolls' Tony-winning Miss Adelaide or as the hilarious, eye-blinking, pelvic-thrusting Shirley in the more recent Disaster!, you can only conclude that comedy and powerfully belting out a wide range of songs are her strongest attributes as an artist. But then you witness her work in A Man of No Importance and A Catered Affair and you realize that she is actually a dramatic actor who just happens to sing superbly. In fact, her rendition of “Tell Me Why” in the former, which was filled with a mix of anger, regret, and empathy, as well as her lengthy sob in the latter, which revealed a life's worth of frustrations, remain thoroughly etched in this theatregoer's memory.

Fans of the Tony-winning actor will be happy to learn that Prince will return to the stage in June 2018, playing a southern baker surrounded by controversy in the Alley Theatre production of Bekah Brunstetter's The Cake. Prince has been cast in the role of Della, a North Carolina baker who struggles with whether to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Prince, who was also Tony-nominated for her performances in A Catered Affair, Bells Are Ringing, and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, recently told me, “It's also kind of based on Paula Deen. I like it because [Brunstetter] is actually from about 40 minutes from where I grew up in Lynchburg.

“We have this pride—sort of a love and hate with the South,” Prince continued. “I remember Alfred Uhry talking about it. You notice I don't live there. I didn't go back there, but don't say anything bad about it. It's very complex. And when I read the play, I literally threw it across the room! I was like, ’I don't want to get into this.’ I have so many issues… And then I picked it up and thought I was the perfect person to show this woman.… [Brunstetter] said, ’I'm really trying to honor the people I came from, but I'm also trying to show the middle road,’ and she does a great job of it. You really start to understand both points of view, whether you agree with them or not.”

Prince is also one of the spectacular talents lined up for Playbill Travel’s Rhine River cruise August 12–20, 2017. She will be joined by Drama Desk winner Andréa Burns, three-time Tony nominee Terrence Mann, two-time Tony nominee Charlotte d’Amboise, Tony nominee Santino Fontana, and music director Seth Rudetsky. Click here for more information.

Prince recently recalled some of her most memorable nights in the theatre for Playbill, which follow:

The Little Mermaid

Well, there have definitely been a few mishaps. One night I had a substitute dresser when I was doing The Little Mermaid, and I was playing Ursula. There was a crank in the back of my costume that you had to turn and make sure was secure, and the whole contraption just fell off the back of me. So, when I went to sing, “You poor, unfortunate…,” there was a clunk, and the whole apparatus fell off the back of me. If you could have seen everybody’s face. Michael Kosarin was in the pit conducting, and the eels were at my feet, and everybody was in horror. All I had was my two hands, which had these wild fingernails, [and the apparatus] just went to the bottom of my ankles. I had to hold this big note, and that’s when I usually pull up the big cape over 20 feet in the air. But that apparatus is what fell to the back. And so I took my hands and went down to my ankles and slid up my body and held the note out as long as I could…. The eels slid—they hurled the contraption off to the wings, somehow they got it off, but then I still had to sign the contract, and that was done also with this huge apparatus. I just kind of floated over to Ariel… I walked over to her like Mae West, and I go, “Not just any ink darling,” and I put my fingernail up and said, “Use mine.” And she took my fingernail and signed the contract with my hand. It was the only thing I could think of. I remember there was a friend in the audience that’s a really good actress, and that was the night she was in the audience! I was like, “Oh my God, why did she have to see it tonight?” [Laughs.] And, she didn’t notice anything. She just thought that was the way it was supposed to be.

Bells Are Ringing

I actually like when things go wrong—after I’ve been doing [a show for] awhile, because everything slows down in my brain. My brain goes to slow motion. Marc Kudisch and I were doing Bells Are Ringing, and I had this little typewriter on a table, and it had wheels on it. I was upset in the scene—there was a girl that was in his apartment, and I was supposed to come and take notes—and in my fury, I pulled the table really fast, and the typewriter slid off the table and broke in half. You know, that old ribbon that used to be in the typewriters, it just [made a whirring sound] and went all over the floor. I mean, I just stood there, and the audience was like “What?” I turned to the girl, and I said, “Well, I think you need to go now; obviously, you can see we have a lot of work to do.” The audience just went wild to the point where I literally did a nose dive into the couch. It stopped the show for about three minutes, and then finally I took a pencil out of my purse. I don’t know why I had that in there, and a pad, and I just said, “Let's go to plan B!” Somehow Marc and I finished the scene and walked off. It was the end of Act One.

A Backstage Visit From Peter Boyle

Peter Boyle, who was the dad in Everybody Loves Raymond, came back [while I was doing Guys and Dolls] and said one time, “Are you really taking this in? Because this may never happen again. This doesn’t happen [often].” He was giving me perspective, and I was old enough to kind of know that. I was in my mid-’30s. And I said, “Yes, sir.” He said to savor every minute because it may never be like this again. If it is, it may only happen once or twice.… Looking back on it, he’s right. I’ve had different experiences but never that experience.

Guys and Dolls

Ernie Sabella and I used to play this game during Guys and Dolls, and I think Nathan [Lane] was in on it, too. You’d spot somebody in the audience or you said you spotted someone. The trick is it can’t take you out of any moment of being present, but your mind starts to grab on—it naturally wants to grab on to something new, fresh, present. We developed this game where you’d see somebody in the audience or you said you saw them, and by the end of the night you had to decide [if they were really there are not]... Like if somebody said, “I spot Jerome Robbins in the audience.” By the end of the night you’re looking in the audience to see if he’s really there or if he comes backstage. So whoever spots it, then the other people have to say if it’s a lie or if it’s the truth. Some of the guys were doing Quiz Show at the time—they were filming Quiz Show. Ernie said, “I saw [Quiz Show director] Robert Redford in the audience,” and I could not find him all night because he’s pretty recognizable. I was like, “That sh** is lying to me!” [Laughs.] All night long, I thought, “Nah, I don’t see him, I don’t see him.” I went up to my dressing room, and I was taking my pin curls out, and there was a knock at the door. I go, “Yeah, who is it?” He goes, “Robert Redford,” and I go, “Ernie, you little sh**, yeah right,” and he opens the door, and it is Robert Redford! I looked the worst I possibly could. My hair was hanging down, and I screamed and ran over to him and said, “I just love you.” His daughter was with him, and I'm sure I embarrassed her. That was one thing that was really funny, because I, for sure, thought Ernie was pulling my leg.

Disaster!

I had these breakaway tap pants, and for some reason for a couple of nights they weren’t snapped right, and one night I’m trying to pull them off and the whole thing just sort of entangles and falls to the bottom of my ankles. I’m trying to get on with the tap scene while getting myself out of the pants, and everybody came to my rescue. Kerry [Butler] and Kevin Chamberlin and Adam [Pascal], and they’re all holding me up while I untangle myself from these tap pants. You make it work. It was not as spectacular as just pulling them and then suddenly the pants become these little “Star Tar” tap pants. It was a great bit, and I had actually thought of it, and then the costumer, who was working for William Ivey Long, helped me rig it... That was a fun show. Honestly, as much as I loved Guys and Dolls, and I did, I think that was my favorite show cast-wise. They were just such terrific people.

Playbill Travel is now also booking Broadway on the Danube River with Michael Feinstein for November 2017, also featuring Julia Murney, Christopher Fitzgerald, Marc Kudisch, Christopher Sieber, Brandon Uranowitz, and Rudetsky, as well as other exciting talent to be announced. Visit PlaybillTravel.com for booking and information.

Senior Editor Andrew Gans is also the author of the monthly Their Favorite Things column.

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