To the audience, Kincaid is Prince. Not for every second of the play, admittedly. But especially during the musical numbers (which Kincaid performs with alarming accuracy) the performer approximates Prince's physical likeness well enough that if you want to suspend your disbelief and get caught up in the illusion for a little while, you can.
But Kincaid was still pretty overwhelmed when, out promoting the show one evening at Tootsie's, she danced with a woman who swooned, bragging to her friend that she'd just danced with Prince. Now, this woman was probably -- hopefully -- not really confused about whether Purple Rain-era Prince was out dancing at Tootsie's in 2005. If she was, she was probably -- hopefully -- also quite drunk. Nonetheless, she was moved enough by the eerily Prince-like features Kincaid had drawn onto her round, white-girl face that she felt and acted giddy afterward -- she didn't feel like she'd just danced with a woman in a big, purple coat.
Similarly, one night after the show, some audience members stormed the dressing room to see the star of the show. You know ... "Prince." Kincaid had already removed a couple layers of makeup and unrolled the golden-brown hair that had been stuffed under a wig onstage. By now she was calmly enjoying a hard-earned beer. Unrecognizable to the rogue audience members, she didn't register as the woman who played Prince. "I knew it!" one exclaimed. "He's already gone!"
Though Kincaid earned a degree in theater, her training did not prepare her to transform into a singing, androgynous sex symbol -- any more than it prepared her to become a giant stuffed bunny. And it certainly didn't prepare her to do the makeup for either role.
"I was always the pretty lead, the love interest. I wore street makeup," she says. "I took one class in makeup art ... no offense to my professors, but nothing I learned in that class was very helpful." Becoming a rabbit was hard but not terribly complex. Using the time-honored trial-and-error method, Kincaid gradually perfected a way to exaggerate the roundness of her eyes and apply whiskers and drawn-on stitching. Prince? Well, we all know he's something else.
By the time I saw the flier for The Show Formerly Known as Purple Rain, I had already heard of Late Night's plans to stage an all-female Purple Rain. And I already knew who was in it, so I imagined that this would be a campy production in which Prince would look like a white girl playing Prince, and not like Prince ... like, for real. I assumed the troupe would play up the dissimilarities. Who would cast Jessalyn Kincaid as Prince expecting it to legitimately work? She's a talented lady, but let's be reasonable, people. Let's not go crazy just yet.
Then I saw the small handbill for the show. Looking at it from a distance, I thought Prince's face had been Photoshopped onto the body of Kincaid, who sat on a motorcycle with leading lady Apollonia (Corrie Van Ausdal) straddling the seat behind her. I was mistaken. Up close, I could tell that this was not Prince's doctored likeness. But it wasn't too far off, either, and gone were all traces of the woman I'd seen in Late Night's previous production, Mother Trucker (in which Kincaid played a slew of roles ranging from a truck-stop prostitute to a Jesus-Willie Nelson hybrid called "Jesus-Willie").