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Faith Prince Takes On Billy Elliot the Musical and Maggie Thatcher

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She's a cigarette-smoking tough lady, running a girls dancing school in a North England mining town, just about out of any inspiration when a boy stumbles into her class and she gets him to stay.

Tony award winner Faith Prince is in Houston playing Mrs. Wilkinson, the ballet teacher in Billy Elliot the Musical, a role that she came close to playing several times before. She was tied up in other productions (Ursula in Little Mermaid for one) or she needed to be on the West Coast when they wanted her on the east, she says. Finally they compromised with the tour - she'd do a few months on the east coast and they'd wrap it up in the west.

Now she's on tour for the first time in her life, and while she's not a fan of the packing and unpacking, she does love seeing all the different cities and working with the kids in the show.

"I'm in love with them. They are so amazing and so incredibly present," she says.

She describes her character as: "complex, eccentric, probably unfulfilled." "You can tell she probably had this dream, probably wanted to go to the West End, do theater, and instead for whatever reason maybe she got pregnant at that time, married and stayed home and she thought 'Ah, I'll make a little money having this ballet studio.'"

"This child comes in and she really sees exceptional talent and I think she's able to rise up and be an advocate for this little boy in a way she can't even for her own child. I think it was the only time in her life it wasn't about her; it's really about him."

To take on the role, Prince had to be a fast study. With only one year of ballet training behind her (during her college years), Prince laughs when she talks about how much she had to learn to be able to put the dancers through their paces.

The success of Billy Elliot the Musical is due to the fact that "it has a deep meaning as well as being wildly entertaining," Prince believes. "Somehow even though it's a very political story, it's a very moving story, it's very funny. And there's nothing better than Elton John [who wrote the music] quite frankly."

As for what former Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher did to strike down the unions, Prince said she wasn't struck so much by the fact that Thatcher thought the unions needed to be gone because maybe financially they didn't make sense, but that she apparently gave no thought to what all these out-of-work people were going to do next.

"She didn't do anything for her own people in terms of thinking outside the box of how she could use that community and how she could use those people. There was no thought or talk or even speculation of what they might do when this all closed down. You sit there as an outsider and you go how could that possibly be?"

Billy Elliot the Musical, brought to Houston by Gexa Energy Broadway and Theatre Under the Stars runs through March 13 at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For tickets call 713-558-8887 or go to www.tuts.com or www.broadwayacrossamerica.com.

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