Casting Tony Award winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia in its upcoming production of “A Little Princess,” Berkeley Playhouse undoubtedly has scored. But for the actor, it’s just another adventure in his career and his relatively new life as a West Coast resident.
Although he’ll always be a Brooklynite at heart, Heredia — best known for his portrayal of cross-dressing Angel in the Broadway and film versions of “Rent”— loves Northern California.
“I fit into the culture. I love the food and the huge collection of people, how they’re socially and politically conscious — and the sun,” he says.
In “A Little Princess” — the 2004 musical by Andrew Lippa and Brian Crawley based on the beloved children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett — he plays Pasko, the first mate on a ship on which protagonist Sara Crewe sails. He likens their relationship to that of a big brother and little sister, but says his character “is an extension of her imagination.”
One reason he was thrilled to join the show —which opens this week at the Julia Morgan Theater — is due to its heavy use of cool effects, including shadow puppetry.
“It’s no run-of-the-mill musical. We make shapes, we make camels, we make trees,” he says, adding the work is not unlike what he did as a young thespian and crew member on varied projects in New York, including working with prominent puppeteer Ralph Lee.
While he began acting professionally at 17, he says his “true education” in the field was onstage in “Rent,” which he began doing off-Broadway at 23, before it changed his life — and theater — forever.
“It was a trip in personal psychology. I was young, I wasn’t prepared for it. I was part of a big machine,” he says. “Not only was it a big commercial success, it also played a huge role in the way alternative lifestyles are perceived.”
After the craziness of the “Rent” phenomenon, he took a break. He also focused on his personal life, a journey that, after years, has brought him to California, where he met his wife.
More recently, he finished a gig as Lancelot in San Francisco Playhouse’s production of “Camelot,” a role he loved but found exhausting, with its swordplay and heavy physical demands. He does have one role to which he looks forward — if only someone would give it to him.
“I want to be in a superhero film,” says the longtime comic book lover and super-serious student of the form. “I’ve been an ardent fan since I was 3 — I feel like I deserve it!”
IF YOU GO
A Little Princess
Presented by the Berkeley Playhouse
Where:</b> Julia Morgan Theater. 2640 College Ave., Berkeley
When: 7 p.m. most Thursdays-Fridays, 1 and 6 p.m. most Saturdays, noon and 5 p.m. most Sundays; closes Dec. 8.
Tickets: $17 to $60
Contact: (510) 845-8542, ext. 351, www.berkeleyplayhouse.org