Tuesday July 24, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- "Total Faith" is the title of the cabaret act, and its bearer, Faith Prince, appears to mean exactly that.

From the moment the energetic and versatile actress and singer trotted out on stage all in black -- pants suit, tunic top, boots charting a determined gait -- she demonstrated her intention not only to entertain, but to share part of her life with the throng gathered to greet her Saturday evening at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.

In between songs that explored and expanded the Great American Songbook, she examined some of the milestones in her life that have embraced Broadway and road shows, concerts and television.

With great joy she recalled the grit she displayed in launching her own career -- by volunteering her keyboard and vocal skills to a show called "Scrambled Feet" at the old Village Gate, an assignment that included her hilarious conquest of a performing duck named Hermione.

Prince has a big strong voice with enough flexibility to escort her listeners to surprising places. Reminiscing about some of her valued friendships, she mentioned how once she had buoyed the spirits of Liza Minnelli in a moment of need, then sailed into a tribute to Minnelli with a torchy rendition of "The World Goes ‘Round," the tune Kander & Ebb wrote especially for Martin Scorsese’s film, "New York, New York."

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Prince seems as much in awe of famous people as the rest of us. Her recollection of her initial experience with Elaine Stritch reflected that sense of wonderment, as she offered a marvelously brittle distillation, worthy of Stritch, of "Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch" from Stephen Sondheim’s "Company."

Alex Rybeck, Prince’s gifted musical director whom she calls her Boston Pops and second husband, collaborated with her at the keyboard, even joining her in a duet at one point. But Prince also extended musical honors to her 17-year-old son, Henry Lunetta, who proved a nimble guitarist on a couple of numbers.

She then dedicated a warm personal turn to him on "If He Walked Into My Life," Jerry Herman’s affectionate tune from "Mame." Later, on the subject of Herman, she tendered a robust account of "Before the Parade Passes By," noting that Herman once had told her that she would make a good Dolly Levi. He probably was correct in that assessment.

Prince did not disappoint those who remembered her Tony-award-winning performance as Miss Adelaide in the 1992 revival of "Guys and Dolls," offering a funny nasal-timbered "Adelaide’s Lament," and in an encore, Sarah Brown’s lively air, "If I Were a Bell."

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At one point, she mentioned that Dick, a nice -- she used the word "cute" -- reporter who had interviewed her for a story in The Berkshire Eagle, had asked her if she was going to be doing something from "Bells Are Ringing," another show for which she received a Tony nomination. She said he had specifically asked about Ella Peterson’s tour-de-force finale, "I’m Going Back."

She obliged, thank you. Now, one longs to savor the rest of Ella Peterson from that 2001 revival.