Sunday, May 27, 2001

Faith Prince

Tony-winning musical veteran at top of Broadway stardom

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Faith Prince is up for a Tony Award
(Carol Rose photo)
| ZOOM |
        Faith Prince isn't just a Broadway star. She's the Broadway star you wished lived next door.

        Ms. Prince is up for a Tony Award this year for her performance in the revival of Bells Are Ringing, a winsome musical comedy from the '50s about a telephone answering service operator who falls in love with a client and runs afoul of a bookie operation.

        Ms. Prince plays the kind of woman who strikes up conversations on the subway. Ms. Prince says she is more like her than anyone she's played.

        She first discovered Bells when she was a student at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. “I was looking for something for my sophomore boards, and someone said it would be a good show for me. I listened to the LP — it was only LPs then — and I thought, "Man, this is great, it's like it was written for me.' ”

        Faith Prince, with her sparkling eyes, red curls and warmth that reaches beyond the footlights, has always been a comic leading lady. She is a direct descendant in a starry line that includes Ethel Merman, Bells' original star Judy Holliday and Angela Lansbury.

        The trouble was, just as she was graduating (1981), Broadway was overrun with the British invasion of star-less vehicles, in which interchangeable performers took a back seat to potently designed musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miz.

        While celebrities and personalities are used for marquee value, genuine musical stars still haven't recovered their place on the Broadway stage (although Nathan Lanein The Producers may help change that).

        “I have a lot of feelings about it,” says Ms. Prince, noting that producers don't know what to do with her particular talents. It took almost a decade to get from off-Broadway (in Scrambled Feet, straight out of college) to debuting in Jerome Robbins' Broadway in 1989.

        “People have said I'm living in the wrong time, but there are a lot of reasons why I'm here now, to keep these shows alive.”

Gardner disciple
               Wrong time or no, Ms. Prince, 43, has had quite a career.

        A student of longtime CCM department head Worth Gardner, she says, “He could give me the canvas and make me feel like I could do anything within it. He prepared me for working with directors like James Lapine, Jerry Zaks, Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins.”

        She's worked steadily in intriguing projects such as Nick & Nora, Falsettoland, James Joyce's The Dead, revivals of Little Me, The King and I and more. She earned a Tony Award (1992) for her role as Adelaide in the revival of Guys and Dolls.

        There was motherhood and an ill-fated sitcom. She and husband Larry Lunetta (a trumpeter in the Kiss Me, Kate pit orchestra) are raising son Henry, 6, in Hastings-on-Hudson.

"Ringing' endorsement
               Bells wouldn't be back on Broadway without the efforts of Ms. Prince. She never forgot the musical and started pursuing it seriously a few years ago. “I pitched it at every meeting” she had with producers, she says. “I'd perform in tributes to (Betty) Comden and (Adolph) Green (the show's songwriters) and people would write "Somebody should do that show for that girl.' ”

        She used material from Bells in her Leap of Faith CD. Finally the pieces fell into place.

        Ms. Prince wouldn't mind if Bells plays for a good long time, but word on 42nd Street is that box office is shaky. That despite the giant, appreciative sigh that rises from the audience as the orchestra swings into the timeless stage hits “The Party's Over” and “Just in Time.” (The cast album has been recorded by Fynsworth Alley and will be released June 26.)

        A lot may be riding on next Sunday's Tony Awards.

        Ms. Prince hasn't done any touring in years. Her only out-of-New York stage appearance was two years ago in Cincinnati, subbing for Hayley Mills for a week in The King and I. She says she wouldn't be averse to a short Bells tour “if the schedule and time frame were right; I love the show so much.”

        She added that she thinks it would be great if the Aronoff Center invited her to perform her one-woman Leap of Faith show.
       @subhed:Building a life

        @text: A life in the theater being uncertain at best, and although she's loving Bells, (“Really loving it. My goal is to enjoy this because it doesn't go on forever.”) Ms. Prince is thinking about what's next.

        “I'd like to do The Apple Tree, or anything Barbara Harris did (which includes On a Clear Day You Can See Forever). I'm going to do a reading of the new Flaherty-Ahrens show, A Man of No Importance.”(Flaherty being Stephen, another CCM grad. The team is responsible for Ragtime and the under-rated Suessical.)

        Is this the career she dreamed of? “Short answer, yes,” Ms. Prince says. “Though I don't think I could have ever dreamed it.

        “It's exactly what I wanted — when I started out I was working doing what I loved. To get a show on Broadway, and be in it, and stay in it, and get reviewed — I don't think anybody realizes how difficult it is.

        “And to stand back and think about that, and being on stage in the moment, and being a human being and a good mother and a good wife — I think, "Wow, girl, you did it! You saw it, you willed it, you were relentless, you had a lot of help.' ”


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