Beloved Broadway diva Faith Prince won a Tony Award for her indelible portrayal of Miss Adelaide in a blockbuster 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls, her third show on the Great White Way. She now makes her LA Opera debut as Ruth Sherwood in Wonderful Town, another classic mid-century musical comedy.
How does a girl from Lynchburg, Virginia, end up on Broadway?
My parents weren’t performers, but I sang in the chorus and was in musicals in my school, which had a terrific drama program. My wonderful chorus director Carl Harris helped me get into the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and that changed my life. I started to see that I was making headway, that maybe I could do theater for a living. I went to Washington DC for a job that got me an Equity card, and then moved to New York in January of 1981. Not too long after that, I got into an Off Broadway show in Boston, got an agent, and I was off and running. And now I’ve just finished my 14th Broadway show!
You’ve worked with two of your Wonderful Town cast mates before on Broadway—Marc Kudisch in Bells Are Ringing in 2001 and Roger Bart in Disaster! earlier this year.
I love Roger like my own child. And I adore Marc, too. He’s a pussycat and I’m excited that he’s doing a sweet role for a change! My list of leading men is insanely wonderful, everybody from Jason Alexander to Nathan Lane, Richard Kind, Kevin Chamberlin, Oliver Platt, Martin Short… And I also worked with our director, David Lee, in Two by Two here in Los Angeles for Reprise.
Bells Are Ringing and Wonderful Town are both by the lyricist team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Did you get to meet them when you did Bells on Broadway in 2001?
They were there all the time. Adolph was nothing but warm and fuzzy to me. I even sang at his funeral when he died the next year. I sang “The party’s over” [from Bells Are Ringing]. Right before I sang, I remember turning to Bernadette Peters and saying “How am I going to do this?”
It was tougher with Betty. I had done an earlier reading of Bells Are Ringing at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. When they were going to take it to Broadway, the producers kept dragging their feet, so when I got offered Little Me, I decided to take that. I think Betty was upset that I did Little Me first. But when I eventually did Bells Are Ringing on Broadway in the end, she was very complimentary.
She also had an interesting relationship with Judy Holliday [Comden’s close friend, who had created the leading Bells role of Ella Peterson in a legendary portrayal]. I always felt like Betty originally wanted to be an actress, but started getting hired as a writer. Judy started out as a writer, but got hired as an actress, so they sort of switched paths. I think I reminded Betty of Judy and it triggered a lot, but I didn’t know exactly what that was.
There was a wide search for the role of Ella after the Kennedy Center reading. It was really difficult for me since I was the one who’d gotten the whole thing going. I remember getting on a plane one time and seeing a clue in the crossword puzzle—“composer of Bells Are Ringing”— which I took as a sign not to give up. Sure enough, they came back, made me audition again for a new producer and said “I don’t know what we’ve doing for the past nine months—you are Ella Peterson.”
Have you done Wonderful Town before?
No, and I’m really excited about doing it. I absolutely relate to how Ruth moves to New York to be an artist. The tenacity and the relentlessness that it takes to stand out in that scene, trying to find your way, to express yourself, to cross your own finish line—I remember how overwhelming it was. Bernstein’s score makes all of that part of the musical canvas. You can tell right away in the overture. It’s exciting and new, and kind of innocent in its own way.
I certainly love the texture of that woman. When I look at Ruth’s words, going over the script, everything I read is something I would actually say. Sometimes you have to “wear” a role awhile before you get it, but I feel completely connected to Ruth. And anything Rosalind Russell did, I’m totally fascinated by. There’s a strength, a sort of masculinity expressed in a feminine way, and I can really relate to that. Those are my broads!
But I’ve sung several of the songs before. When I did “Conga!” with the Boston Pops, we did it right before the intermission, and then I’d conga off the stage with the whole orchestra. So I know how to conga! I’m up for anything. At least it’s not a limbo. I think my limbo days are over.
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