Friday, February 13, 2009

Cabaret review: Faith Prince, in a good groove between Broadway shows

Faith Prince.

By Hap Erstein

Although she is terrific at it, cabaret is not really what Tony Award-winning performer Faith Prince does.

She is to the theater born, as those who have seen her in such diverse shows as The King and I, Guys and Dolls or last season’s short-lived A Catered Affair can attest. But since she is briefly between Broadway shows, New York’s loss is the Colony Hotel Royal Room’s gain.

It has been two seasons since the flame-haired comedienne-singer has played the jewel-like supper club, time enough for her to return with an almost entirely new act. Prince keeps her 75-minute set focused on the autobiographical, catching us up on her recent gigs -- Kismet with the English National Opera (“Arabian Nights as seen through the eyes of Henny Youngman”) and A Catered Affair (represented by the wistful finale, Coney Island).

Looking ahead, she is about to do a concert version of Stephen Sondheim’s masterful Sweeney Todd in Orlando, followed by a year’s contract back on Broadway as the villainous sea-witch Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. At the Royal Room, that odd combo yielded the unlikely medley of The Worst Pies in London and Poor Unfortunate Souls.

While she was deliciously maniacal on the latter, you do have to worry for Prince’s sanity being stuck in the cartoonish, literal-minded musical for 12 months.

Early in her act, accompanied by the stalwart Alex Rybeck on piano and Chuck Bergeron on bass, Prince ingratiated herself to an audience already in her pocket with a salute to these recessionary times, Take Me Back to the ’80s, with special lyrics set to Cole Porter’s Take Me Back to Manhattan. It's not that the song was not clever, but it would be nice if it were soon outdated.

Unlikely to date, even though it is more than 40 years old and a parody of the outmoded bossa nova craze, is one of Prince’s signature songs, the tongue-twisting The Boy From . . ., an Ipanema parody by Mary Rodgers and Sondheim originally written for the comedy revue, The Mad Show. As Prince explained, she plans to keep it in her act for fear that she would never be able to re-learn the lyrics if she shelved it temporarily.

Only after she took her first bows did Prince come through with another of her requisite numbers, Adelaide’s Lament, the Frank Loesser adenoidal soliloquy that won her a Tony in 1992.

In previous Royal Room gigs, Prince has sung duets with the cabaret’s manager and magnet, Rob Russell. This time, she graciously ceded him the microphone for a ring-a-ding solo on Just in Time, not coincidentally from Bells Are Ringing, another revival that brought her back to Broadway.

While she has a Broadway-sized voice, Prince knows how to modulate it for the scale of the Royal Room. And if her personality is a bit too big for the venue, the audience Thursday evening gave the impression it wouldn’t want it any other way.

, Colony Hotel Royal Room, 155 Hammon Ave., Palm Beach. Through Feb. 21. Tickets: $100-$125 for dinner and show; or $65 cover plus $20 food and beverage minimum. Call: (561) 655-5430.

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