By Andrew Gans
30 Aug 2013
It seemed only a matter of time before Faith Prince, one of the most gifted comedic actresses in the American musical theatre, would take on the role of Miss Hannigan, the lovably evil orphanage matron created to Tony-winning effect by the late, delicious Broadway clown Dorothy Loudon in the original 1977 production of the classic, family-friendly musical Annie. Prince is the third actor to take on the role in the current, Tony-nominated revival, all with impressive resumes; in fact, she follows two-time Tony winner Katie Finneran and, more recently, Emmy winner Jane Lynch. Prince, whose more dramatic work in the musicals A Man of No Importance (by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Terrence McNally) and A Catered Affair (by Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino) moved this writer tremendously, is also one of the most gifted vocalists to take on the role, which allows her to strut her stuff in such Charles Strouse-Martin Charnin gems as "Little Girls" and "Easy Street." I recently had the pleasure of catching up with this multitalented star of stage and screen, who spoke about her return to Broadway in the James Lapine-directed musical as well as her work as devoted dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson in the national tour of Billy Elliot; that conversation follows.
Question: How did this role come about?
Faith Prince: Honestly, I just got a phone call from my agent that said James [Lapine] wants you to go into the role of Hannigan after Jane Lynch. And I went, "Wow, okay!" [Laughs.] It was a bit of a scramble because it was so fast.
Question: What went into your decision to take the role?
Prince: My son actually is headed to college now. But I don’t know, it sounded like it’d be a great role for me—kind of delicious, all of the right elements… And, it’s a show that’s already up and running… Sometimes it takes so long to get something workshopped, which is a great process, but you know going towards that is a lot more involved. This was there, done, up and running, and it just was a matter of changing a lot of my things for summer because I’d had my summer pretty well planned out with concerts and teaching. There was a thing in St. Louis for ten days, I had a week in Philly for teaching. I just had to kind of rearrange all that, and people were great about it because it’s what we do, you know? [Laughs.]
Prince: I had never, no.
Question: What are the challenges of joining a show that is already up and running?
Prince: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s funny, when you teach as well and have a studio, you’re kind of looking at things from a performer's viewpoint but also how to explain it to somebody else and break it down. Like, "What can I extract from this?... Ooh, this is really interesting information." This is the fourth time I’ve replaced. The first time was in King and I for Donna Murphy, and the next time was [James Joyce's The] Dead, for Blair Brown with Christopher Walken. I played his wife in The Dead, it was Richard Nelson’s piece, and then [The Little] Mermaid and now this. And I’ll tell you, comedy is the absolute hardest to replace in because your sense of humor, your sense of comedy, even though it’s written out for you, it’s so personal. And, I would say that’s the trickiest because you’re going behind somebody else’s blueprint. And it’s really interesting, but I had remembered with Mermaid, because Sherie Rene Scott and I couldn’t be more different, but you just have to get in there and find the blueprint and give people what they need. Then you start to find your own way within it. You can’t panic; it’s really a process… And when you have a good director, like James, he wanted me to bring myself to it, but I still had to honor what was. So it’s just very interesting, but it’s doable—you just have to kind of get in there. And the other actors, once you’re playing with them and everyone is present, I think it’s a lot of fun!