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Faith Prince

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Self-dubbed “a cabaret virgin,” Lynchburg, Va.-bred Broadway musical star Faith Prince made her nightclub debut with this knockout performance, recorded last January at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan’s Public Theater complex. Best known for her Tony Award-winning performance as Miss Adelaide in the 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls, Prince initially comes on too strong, raucously whooping at her own patter and overdoing her kookiness to cloak apparent insecurity. But by her fourth song—Dave Frishberg’s “Sweet Kentucky Ham,” the musical counterpart of an Edward Hopper portrait of urban loneliness—Prince settles down and, in her strong, true, bright-edged voice, presents an intelligently chosen program including Murray Grand’s deliciously silly “I Always Say Hello to a Flower,” the Stephen Sondheim-Mary Rodgers gender-bending bossa nova parody “The Boy From…,” an uproarious spoken account of her experiences co-starring with Jack Jones at the Sacramento Music Circus, and musical tributes to three sister soubrettes: Betty Hutton, Judy Holliday, and Barbara Harris. What lifts A Leap of Faith to the front rank of cabaret recordings, however, is Prince’s interpretation of the Larry Grossman-Ellen Fitzhugh composition “Animal in the Pit,” which she characterizes as “the wildest, wackiest, multilayered, unusual song you’ve ever heard.” As artfully compressed as a Hemingway short story, the number begins with the narrator matter-of-factly recalling her quickie Mexican divorce: “The drive to Tijuana was tense/But then so was most of our marriage.” After signing papers to end their union, she and her ex-husband repair to a restaurant. Strangely, the establishment—sod floor, hanging pinatas, a mariachi band—is out of food, but the management insists that lunch is “cooking deep within the ground.” While waiting, the two down beers and margaritas, and tipsily dance “like a friend and a friend.” Still no food. (“Somewhere outside in the earth there lay the promise of lunch….The thing they buried had been there for days.”) Ultimately, she departs without eating, wondering, “Did marriage come to an end because lunch was always on time?” and questioning whether there ever really was an animal in the pit. —Joel E. Siegel