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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 11
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW You gotta have Faith - An interview with Billy Elliot's Faith Prince
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW You gotta have Faith - An interview with Billy Elliot's Faith Prince

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

Billy Elliot
The Musical
March 22
through April 3
Paramount Theatre


Faith Prince has performed many roles on Broadway: an octopus sea witch, a jazz club chorine, the wife of a Gay man, and a stripper, among numerous others. Her talent is undisputable, earning her several Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critic Award nominations and wins. She has appeared with the Seattle Men's Chorus, as well as the Boston and Philadelphia Pops. It is as Mrs. Wilkenson, the ballet teacher from Billy Elliot The Musical that brings Ms. Prince back to Seattle.

Eric Andrews-Katz: What started your interest in musical theatre?

Faith Prince: I have to say it was probably seeing Peter Pan at the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center, when I was a kid. I went with a friend who was auditioning for one of the children. They asked me if I wanted to audition and sing something, but the only thing I knew was 'Happy Birthday.' I sang it and got a part. My friend didn't. She didn't talk to me for two weeks.

Andrews-Katz: Your first Broadway credit [Jerome Robbins' Broadway] earned you a Tony and Drama Desk Award nomination. How was it working with the infamous Jerry Robbins?

Prince: His technique and style are imprinted on my brain. I think he changed me, and the way I approach a character, with the work and the movement within a song. I never had anyone [direct] with better focus. The eyes of the audience never went anywhere he didn't want them to go.

Andrews-Katz: Nick & Nora was considered ill-fated despite the incredible creative team and the very talented cast. Why do you think it wasn't the hit it could have been?

Prince: I think the collaborative team just wasn't collaborative. Personally, I think [one reason it didn't live up to its potential] was because Arthur Laurents wrote and directed it. It's not always good to mix the different perspectives. I also think it was hard to do a musical about characters that are so well-known, and yet the musical was more like an episode of the series. The show really became about the murder victim instead of Nick and Nora.

Andrews-Katz: The 1992 revival of Guys & Dolls cast you as Adelaide, a role that won you the trifecta Tony/Drama Desk/Outer Circle Awards. In what ways did you identify with the character of Adelaide?

Prince: That role was a sort of interesting turn. I identified with her strength as a woman. I know most people think of that character as a bit wacky and on the dumb side. I found her very intelligent and really in love with this man who couldn't get it together [enough to marry her]. Not that I had that experience, but I related as a strong woman knowing what she wanted and how to achieve that.

Andrews-Katz: Almost the entire second act of Noises Off is in complete silence. It's a brilliant farce of sight gags and comic timing. How difficult was it to get the timing down and what challenges did you face during this section of the play?

Prince: When I first read the show, I couldn't imagine certain parts of it because it was so much physical comedy and pantomime, and that most of it was not understood until I actually performed the work. The hardest thing about that show is trying to remember where you are and which section you are doing at the time - especially when it gets faster. It was screwball. It's a feat to achieve it. I think you have to combine comedians with talented actors; they have to understand physical comedy.

Andrews-Katz: The part of Aggie in A Catered Affair brought you another Tony nomination. Did you find it difficult to recreate the character after Bette Davis originated the film role?

Prince: No. I can find my own voice in it and I am never intimidated when someone else has done it. If I was, I would never have been able to do Adelaide, Ursula, Belle Poirtine, or any of the others. If the role speaks to me, and I can see myself in the role and find my voice in it, then I know I have a way in. What I love is finding the way; it's like a puzzle uncovering a mystery. That's what is so good about my role in Billy Elliot.

Andrews-Katz: Is that what attracted you to the role of ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson?

Prince: She's complex, and I love complex roles. She's a neat person in this mining town; she's eccentric. She has a sense of theatre and art that is probably honed well beyond anyone around her. I think she had aspirations of being an entertainer, and she has an unhappy marriage. For the first time in her life, with Billy, she really steps up for someone else in ways she can't do for her daughter, and is driven by helping this young boy. Plus, she has a sense of humor.

Andrews-Katz: What do you think is the general appeal of the musical over the film version?

Prince: I think the musical is much more musically articulated, not only in song but in dancing; it is much more visual. They've taken the story and expanded it, including adding a different ending. It's different watching a movie about a dance, opposed to sitting in a seat seeing a live transformation in front of you.

Andrews-Katz: You've played so many various roles on stage, television, and screen. What do you look for when searching for new roles?

Prince: I look for growth within a piece. I like to see where (and it may not always be for the better) the shift is in a character. How does she start and how does she end (or 'he,' I have no objection to playing a male role)? Mostly, it's the complex mixture of pathos with humor. Those are the things I recognize in my own life that I can use in finding a way into the story.

Faith Prince has been honored with nominations for four Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, and four Outer Critics Circle Awards, with wins in each category. She is known for her work in the groundbreaking Falsettoland trilogy, and her one-woman show, Moving On. Her award-winning show A Leap of Faith is available on CD.

Billy Elliot swept the 2009 Tony Awards with 13 nominations and 10 wins including Best Musical, Best Actor, and Best Choreography. The story follows a young boy's desire to dance ballet, while cast against the background of a country in turmoil. Billy Elliot The Musical was music written by Sir Elton John. Lee Hall, who also wrote the 2000 British film by the same name, also wrote the musical's book and lyrics.

To contact Eric Andrews-Katz, e-mail eric@sgn.org.

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