Faith Prince & Jason Graae: The Prince & the Showboy
This cleverly titled, cleverly constructed show at 54 Below smartly shows off both the dramatic and comic gifts of these two superb performers.
As the pair quickly relate, they met while both attending Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, briefly worked together in New York in a series of lesser-known shows, and then lost touch, professionally and personally, until reunited recently for a 42nd St. Moon salute to Jerry Herman in San Francisco, which provided the genesis for this act.
Not surprisingly, Herman gets his due towards the show's end, when Graae -- repeating two standout numbers from his Perfect Hermany show -- does a bang-up job with the very personal "I Am What I Am" and the lovely "I Don't Want to Know," while Prince utilizes her clarion voice to superb effect on a touching version of Mame's "If He Walked Into My Life."
The Herman section is, admittedly, a slight hairpin turn from the act's initial hour, in which the two stars -- when not trading seemingly ad-libbed (and often hilarious) barbs -- mostly alternate songs, choosing from an eclectic group of selections that define their performing strengths.
Graae, a comic genius with a sardonic touch and a constant wink for the audience, scores with a highly amusing take on Stephen Schwartz's "Popular," which uses Rybeck as his Elphaba-like foil, and has the crowd practically rolling in the aisles with contemporary songwriters Michael Koonan and Christopher Dimond's "To Excess," in which a psychopathic stalker relates his "love letter" to Claire, the object of his obsession. (I know it sounds tasteless, but you will be roaring!)
Prince varies the menu a bit more, gaining every guffaw from Mary Rodgers' tongue-twisting "The Boy From" (made even more special by the presence of the writer in the audience), bringing the audience almost to tears with Dave Frishberg's melancholy "Sweet Kentucky Ham," and practically raising the roof with a vitriolic version of Stephen Sondheim's "The Ladies Who Lunch" -- preceded by a most amusing anecdote about the song's originator, the legendary Elaine Stritch.
But if one were forced to choose a highlight of the show, I imagine many might opt for the one-two punch of Graae's gorgeous "What More Can I Say?" from William Finn's Falsettos (he played Mendel in the Broadway production), followed by Prince's spot-on take on "Holding to the Ground" (as she played Trina in the original Off-Broadway production of Falsettoland), a testament to both Finn's craft and a reminder of how much has changed (and perhaps not) in the past two decades.