Theater News

Having Faith in Witchcraft

Tony Award winner Faith Prince takes on a whole new stage persona as evil sea witch Ursula in The Little Mermaid.

Faith Prince as Ursula in The Little Mermaid
(© Joan Marcus)
Faith Prince as Ursula in The Little Mermaid
(© Joan Marcus)

Tony Award winner Faith Prince is one of our most versatile performers, moving constantly between musical theater and straight plays, not to mention her varied film and television work. She recently returned to Broadway in a role unlike any other she’s done: Ursula, the evil sea witch, in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. TheaterMania recently got to chat with Prince about her experience in the show, working with Sierra Boggess, and her debt to Terrence McNally.

THEATERMANIA: Can you tell us what it’s like to be Ursula?
FAITH PRINCE: It’s a full-on riot! Just when you’ve thought it you’ve done it all, you find something new to do. She’s completely different than my last Broadway role: Aggie in A Catered Affair, and I always like to keep audiences guessing. And while I’ve played evil on television — I’ve done some murderers, so I knew I had that side of me — I haven’t really done it on stage.

TM: What’s been the most challenging thing about taking on the role?
FP: It’s hard singing with that kind of weight on your body; those tentacles are really something. I am just getting comfortable with them after three weeks. Even when I did The King and I, heavy as those hoops were, they were distributed in a circumference around you. With this costume, the weight is all in the back and you feel it in the knees. So I’ve learned how to stand differently. I have to say that the first time I went on stage it was like skydiving for the first time.

TM: Is it hard for you to be mean to the lovely Sierra Boggess, who plays Ariel?
FP: I love Sierra; that child is not only gifted beyond belief, but she’s an old soul in a young body. I feel privileged to share time with her. What’s funny about working on this show is that I used to be the youngest girl on block, and now I’m practically the oldest kid in the building. People are coming to my dressing room and asking my opinion on things. That’s great. I am a mom and I’ve always been sort of a caretaker. But what’s more important is that if I can offer anybody something I’ve learned, I love to do it. I had very few mentors in the business when I began.

TM: What has your interaction been like with the young children who come to see the show?
FP: Because of my make-up, it takes about a half-hour for me to leave the building, so usually there are only a few fans left. So it’s easier for me to take groups backstage while I’m in makeup. One little girl, who was about 3, came recently — and while we’re backstage, she took me aside in private and made me promise I would be nicer to Ariel the next time she saw the show.

TM: Speaking of children, what was your son Henry’s reaction to seeing you as Ursula?
FP: He was here seeing the show on his spring break, and his first words were “Cool, mom!”

TM: Is doing this show right now a little easier than A Catered Affair, because you don’t have to deal with the craziness of awards season — other than announcing the Drama Desk Awards on April 27?
FP: Yes. It’s hard to put a new show up like A Catered Affair and it’s hard to keep the show going, so the pressure of dealing with awards on top of that was very stressful. I wish there was a better way to do it, to divvy it up over a longer period than four weeks. I also think a seven-show workweek would be nice. I think not as many people would get hurt or have to take time off. But you know me, I am a workhorse. I love showing up and being there; it really takes a force of nature for me to miss a performance. I am old school that way!

TM: In between these last two Broadway shows, you co-starred in the world premiere of Terrence McNally’s Unusual Acts of Devotion in Philadelphia, and it’s now going on to the La Jolla Playhouse without you, right?
FP: Yes. There was some talk of bringing it to New York right away, but they decided to do more work on it out there. I loved doing that play. In fact, Terrence is one of the reasons I can go back and forth between musicals and drama. Back in 1986, I was playing Carrie in this production of Carousel — Tom Wopat was Billy Bigelow — and Terrence saw it and said to me “You can really act,” and then he got me in some plays at Manhattan Theatre Club. He’s always been a great supporter of mine.

TM: You’re contracted with Mermaid until next spring. Do you have a favorite moment yet?
FP: I love every second of being Ursula, but my favorite part is dying on stage and going down that hole. That first night, I thought “this is really fun.” And I still do!.

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The Little Mermaid

Closed: August 30, 2009