Faith Prince freely labels herself a cabaret virgin, but you’d never guess it from the ease and affability of her debut show at Joe’s Pub. Her repertoire fits her like a glove, her rapport with an (admittedly adoring) audience is instantaneous, her singing is full of pep and wit and polish. If only all cabaret queens were so virginal!
Prince’s show has been subtly designed as a sort of autobiography in song. She opens with a nicely modulated version of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s showbiz cri de coeur “Some People” that segues smoothly into another Broadway tune about ambition, “The Other Side of the Tracks,” from Cy Coleman, and Carolyn Leigh’s “Little Me,” which proved an imperfect fit for Prince last season. No regrets — Prince is that kind of girl.
Dave Frishberg’s “Sweet Kentucky Ham,” a lonesome lament for home, brings up the subject of Prince’s Southern roots, which came as a surprise to various collaborators who pegged her as a Jewish girl from New York (she’s a Presbyterian from Virginia). The singer has an easygoing, self-deprecating wit, and she delivers her anecdotes with an arsenal of loopy vocal squeaks and grunts. Her face, like her voice, is both pretty and appealingly odd.
Scary stories of summer stock in Sacramento introduce a pair of tunes from Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” and Prince is then accompanied by her trumpet-playing husband, whom she met during that engagement, on “The Young Man With a Horn.”
The show’s abundance of carefully written comic patter probably indicates a certain insecurity on Prince’s part about the daunting demands of cabaret singing. She needn’t worry so much about winning the audience over with her personality — her acting talent and brassy vocalizing are always a pleasure.
It helps that she knows her strengths: Much of her material has a nice comic edge to it, and particular highlights of the evening were “Is It a Crime?” from “Bells Are Ringing” (paging Broadway producers — Prince’s suitability for the show warrants a revival!), and a tune from a musical that closed out of town, Larry Grossman and Ellen Fitzhugh’s “Paper Moon.”
That song, “I Do What I Can With What I Got,” is a bawdy honky-tonker performed by a Southern good-time-girl who’s seen better days. Prince delivers it with an enchanting and touching combination of wry cynicism and earthy sexuality, spiced with a smidgen of genuine heart. She’s a singer who can define a character in a few bars of music, a talent so rare and valuable that her absence from Broadway, however temporary, is indeed a crime.