When I was a young stagestruck lad, Faith Prince WAS the sound of musical theater to me. I’d been obsessed with the cast recording of William Finn’s Falsettoland, including Prince as the deliriously conflicted ex-wife of a gay man, and my first Broadway show was the revival of Guys and Dolls, featuring her Tony-winning Miss Adelaide. Comically precise and boldly colorful, she was musical comedy perfection.
And now that hooting belt and brassy coo are back, with her first album in 13 years, Total Faith. Not that she’s really been gone. Since her stardom exploded in the 1990’s, she’s done extensive television work and has appeared in a number of Broadway shows including a Tony-nominated performance in A Catered Affair. Yet this album, recorded live in 2010 during a cabaret performance at Palm Beach’s Colony Hotel, feels in some ways like a staking of claim, a flag stuck in the music theater landscape reminding everyone of the territory she owns.
The album includes stories and songs — she’s in great voice throughout — that lightly skim over the breadth of her career, an opening medley alone covering some of her biggest hits. She tells of near misses (having to turn down the female lead in Little Shop of Horrors) and heartfelt choices (deciding to leave the theater and head to Hollywood so she can be more present for her son) that reveal a lot about the roller coaster of a long career and about the woman behind the boopie doop laughs. Sure, some of the jokes in the patter are pitched for vacationing retirees — she knows her audience at the recording — and a few times her signature vocal hiccups feel more expected than organic to character. But when she tears into material that is comedically and musically sophisticated like her take on “Somewhere That’s Green” or when she finds surprising depth in a straight forward belter like “If He Walked Into My Life” from Mame, there’s no denying how singular and thrilling a talent she is. It’s great to have her “back” singing Broadway, right where she belongs.