DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony Winner Faith Prince, Star of Broadway's Annie

By Andrew Gans
30 Aug 2013

Prince in Annie.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Now that you’ve been playing her awhile, how would you describe your Miss Hannigan? What’s your take on her?
Prince: Well, I find her very complex actually, which is, to me, always the sign of a delicious role. And I’ll tell you, the work that Katie Finneran did  — she and I had actually worked together in Noises Off  — what I love about [this] Miss Hannigan that, to me, is the most different from when I saw it—I believe on Broadway with Dorothy Loudon—[is she's] not a battle ax. There is a sexiness about her that they kind of put in both to the costumes and it’s just in the blueprint. What that does is it kind of makes you understand where she’s coming from and why she’s so frustrated… It’s like when you’ve been frustrated and you’re a human being, and it’s the end of the day and that kid just pushes you one step too far. Suddenly, you’re going from being nice to the neighbor and after the neighbor leaves, you go, "Let me tell you something, if you do that again…" [Laughs.] It’s finding the levels like that because every time there’s a man around she’s flirting, and she listens to her stories on the radio and she kind of becomes those women. Her voice kind of changes. It’s like, “Oh, officer, thank you so much,” but then…[with the orphans] it's like, “Let me tell you something, the last time you go through that door it’ll be 1953!” It just has such beautiful levels that lend itself to the comedy.

Question: How did you go about approaching “Little Girls”? When Dorothy Loudon first performed the song, no one had heard those lyrics. When you’re doing a song that a lot of people know already, how do you go about getting laughs?
Prince: Probably that’s why he added the girls [to the scene], and they turned it into a number with the children. I added a little scarf so I could sort of choke myself. I just wanted to make sure that it was a desperate attempt: "You know what, these kids are pushing me over the frickin’ edge!" And, somehow, that little scarf, just choking myself and putting it into pigtails just kind of pushed it that step further. I just wanted to make sure people knew she's on the brink, like, "I have frickin' had it!" And, it’s one of the steps, because she’s competing with an 11-year-old and the 11-year-old is winning! The 11-year-old is getting everything she wants. And it’s a series of building, which is why she finally agrees to go on this scam with her brother, who always has a scam, but she thinks actually this time it may happen. But it’s just making sure that the groundwork is laid. Peter Lawrence, the stage manager, who's actually on another show now, came back and saw it, and he said, “You know what, you’re mean!” And I said, “Well you have to be. It’s like Ursula.” … He said, “It’s great for the adults.” And I said, "You know who it’s even more important for?" The children, because they know when you’re playing at something. It’s like my dad used to be. I was scared of him until he really took out the belt, because he never did anything with it. But beforehand he used to get really angry. She’s kind of like that. She has a big bark, but she never really is abusive to the point of being really scary. When she turns, it’s like she’s kind of bipolar. You never know what you’re going to get.

Prince and Emily Rosenfeld
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: I would think that’s what makes it interesting.
Prince: Absolutely, and I think that's what makes the kids kind of crazy. Because if somebody’s just mean all the time, you know what you’re going to get. When they turn and play games on you, "Oh, children, there’s something in the kitchen," and it just never comes to fruition, but she’s sort of nice. She lets them watch the stories with her. To me, that’s what's unsettling because it’s inconsistent, and that’s the worst thing for a kid. She’s a kid herself because she’s never gotten what she needed.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment for her?
Prince: I hope it stays in, but I put back the scream…when she’s had it with Grace… [Miss Hannigan] says, "Now let me get this straight, Annie’s going to be the daughter of a millionaire," and [Grace] says, “No, no, not the daughter of a millionaire, the daughter of a billionaire… I just came by to say that Warbucks says she’s never coming back ever."… I turn around and pull up my dress and [scream]! Then I turn back around very calmly, nothing on my face, and say, "Got any more wonderful news?" [Laughs.] And it’s pretty funny, and the kids like it, too. But I’ve tried it every which way. I tried going out of the door, shutting the door, too long. I tried opening the door, screaming out. James said to stay in the room. She still needs a little cover. I just pull up my dress. But it needs to be physically heightened as well as rooted in reality. And, to me, it’s like Guys and Dolls. It’s the hardest to do and really be true to both, but that’s why I love doing it eight times a week, trying to master that.