Ben Crawford in 'Shrek the Musical'
I’m psyched about playing a giant ogre eight times a week.
Hometown: Tucson, Arizona
Currently: Playing everyone’s favorite swamp-dwelling ogre, who sets out to rescue a feisty princess with a very chatty donkey in tow, as the title role in Shrek the Musical. Crawford replaced original star Brian d’Arcy James on November 10.
Destiny’s Child: Crawford was a self-described “goofy kid,” who loved performing but didn’t think of it as a vocation. He enrolled at the University of Arizona as a pre-med student with the aim to be a pediatrician, but realized he would be happier doing theater and switched majors a year later. “I had no idea what I was doing,” Crawford recalls. “It sounds ridiculous, but it felt like destiny.”
Mad for Musicals: Crawford began performing his junior year of high school when he was cast as Moonface Martin in Anything Goes. His senior year, he was “completely typecast” as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. In college, he continued his education by appearing in such beloved shows as Oklahoma!, Guys and Dolls, Little Shop of Horrors and Assassins. He says his varied credits gave him a strong foundation: “As [my education] progressed, I started to go, ‘OK, this is what I’m going to do, and I’m going to move to New York!’ I really found my passion.”
Biting into the Big Apple: Crawford moved to New York City in August 2006, a few months after his younger brother unexpectedly died. He was immediately cast at a show in St. Louis and another in Tennessee, so his New York experience was short-lived. The emotions of the family tragedy caught up with him, and he took time in Tennessee to “to grieve and deal with stuff.” Thus, he proudly calls January 6, 2007 his “official” first day as a New Yorker.
On My Own: Like most aspiring actors in the big city, Crawford survived by taking on all sorts of jobs. “I was a substitute teacher and a tutor. I worked the front door and coat check at a bar down in SoHo. I did all those things while trying to auditon, keep balanced and have money for rent.” The pavement-pounding paid off. Three short months after moving to New York, Crawford was cast as the understudy to both Javert and Jean Valjean in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables. “I tell people the story of getting that job and they’re like, ‘Oh, now I want to kill you.’ I understand how fortunate I am and how blessed.”
Oh, Mother: Crawford, who served as the Shrek standby, found out he was cast in the starring role the day before the news became public. “I was told not to tell anyone other than my girlfriend and my parents. I immediately called my parents and told them. My mom was like, ‘Can I tell anybody?’ And I said, ‘Not until tomorrow. You can wait that long.’ She kept asking. ‘Can I just tell my friends at work?’ I had to tell her no. Apparently, she went to work the next day and announced, ‘I have some very exciting news, but I can’t tell any of you!’” Crawford emphasizes how supportive his family has been, though he jokingly calls his mother a “stage mom” because of her fervor. He offers an example: “When Shrek did a spot on Live with Regis and Kelly, my mom asked me why they couldn’t have two Shreks on TV. I had to tell her, ‘because it’s Shrek the Musical, Mom, not Shreks the Musical!”
Ogre the Moon: Though Shrek is closing on January 3, Crawford is still flush with excitement about starring in a Broadway show—even for a short time. “The first time I went on for Brian [as understudy], it had been six months since I had been on stage performing. It’s exciting to be able to do it every day. I’m psyched about playing a giant ogre eight times a week. Who wouldn’t be?”