Friday, October 23, 2020

Talking to Arizona native BEN CRAWFORD about playing the Phantom on Broadway and about his upcoming BROADWAY FRIGHT NIGHT concert next Friday at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

Ben Crawford

by Gil Benbrook

Arizona native Ben Crawford was born in Tucson, went to the University of Arizona where he earned a BFA in Music Theatre and has appeared in dozens of shows both on Broadway and in regional theatres. Earlier this year he was playing the Phantom in the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera when COVID shut down Broadway. 

Crawford comes to Scottsdale next Friday for a special Halloween themed Broadway concert at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts where he'll appear with other performers with Broadway and regional theatre credits.

In addition to Phatom, Crawford has appeared on Broadway in Les Misérables, Shrek The Musical, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and On the Twentieth Century, in addition to over a dozen regional productions. He's also performed with symphonies and orchestras across the U.S. and Canada.

Crawford sat down to answer some questions about Phantom, growing up in Arizona, the impact of COVID on Broadway and what fans can look forward to at next week's concert

I know you were playing the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera when the shut down of Broadway happened. What can you tell us that experience was like, both as appearing as the Phantom in Broadway’s longest running musical, and the impact of the shutdown?

"Well it was very sudden I’ll be honest. We had a Thursday matinee and as I was sitting in a make up chair I was getting all the sports notifications of certain colleges not participating in the NCAA tournament, then suddenly it was all divisions of schools, and of course the night before the NBA had canceled games so it was a whirlwind to go into work that morning and then within five hours you don’t have a job for now what’s going on over six months and will be over a year and a half once we get back to work.

As a Phantom to be honest it’s no different for everyone else; we’ve all suddenly become weirdly unemployed for something completely beyond our control. It’s very frustrating when you’re not able to do something that you love so much & get paid vwell to do because others didn’t do their jobs."

What have you been doing to stay creative since the shutdown in March?

"You have to get in the right mindset for the situation. It requires a lot of self motivation and in turn I’m trying to use that positively to work on some projects that I’ve been thinking about doing but haven’t had the time to unfortunately until now. 

I have a teaching website called where you can get appointments to work with me virtually live or through uploaded videos and critiques, and I also have a beer blog that is currently on Instagram called Broadway beer time with Ben Crawford: desert edition. It’s a lot of fun and I’m having a great time doing it. A lot of the difficulty during this time is finding an artistic outlet; so I think it’s vital to be self-sufficient and make your own outlets.

I know you grew up in Tucson, and that you went to U of A.  What was your experience like growing up in Arizona?

"Arizona is a great place to grow up. I have a lot of great memories growing up in Tucson, and still keep in touch with a lot of my friends from there. It was definitely a culture shock when I moved to the East Coast to start my career, but it’s always nice to be able to come back to the desert to escape the crazy city LOL."

Were you involved in theatre or appear in any shows in Tucson, U of A, or in Phoenix? 

"Because I came to theater so late in school I didn’t really participate a lot in artistic extracurricular activities- except for the Tucson Arizona boys chorus, which wonderfully enough I am performing at their virtual gala this November.

I didn’t really start doing musicals until my final two years in high school, and those were fantastic because They really opened my eyes to the arts as a living; the application of arts to be more specific.
When I went to the University of Arizona to get my degree in musical theater I was very fortunate to have a lot of opportunities on stage there, and that experience I’m sure helped translate into the career that I’ve had today."

Ben Crawford and Meghan Picerno in The Phantom of the Opera
photo by Matthew Murphy

I know you’ve been back to Arizona to teach some master classes. What do you try to instill in young musical theatre students in your classes?

"Show business is such an interesting concept – you need to fully be yourself to be the best artist you can be, but most of the time you were having to fit that talent within parameters of people who are paying you to be artistic and be your ultimate self. So a lot of what I teach is to really understand how extreme your work ethic has to be, and how the business works. Those are the two fundamental things I try and teach to all ages of students. Of course I’m going to teach it a little less intense to younger children LOL, but it’s good to instill that you need that passion as soon as you can."

I moved to Phoenix in September of 2013, after living and working in NYC for over 25 years, and Big Fish was the last Broadway show I saw before heading west and I thought you were very memorable in that show as the antagonist of the main character.  Unfortunately, that show didn’t last long on Broadway but it has been a staple in regional theatres. I’ve seen three productions in Phoenix and there were also other productions in town I missed. I have to imagine the fact it didn’t have a longer run was devastating since it was the first time you created a role on Broadway. Why do you think the show didn’t find an audience and why do you think it has found a following after the Broadway run?

"You know Broadway is so weird. You can think you have all the pieces and then something happens in the translation and it just doesn’t work out the way you wanted. Big Fish was one of those examples for me where you don’t know what people like; it’s really hard to predict it. I was attached to that show for a little over two years and everyone had such an emotional connection to it- so it was really heartbreaking when I didn’t have that life on Broadway that we all wanted. 

But we all gave so much time to it and that’s the sad part of art- is that sometimes you don’t get a long time on a project, but in some ways that makes you a better artist and makes you understand how fleeting your moments on stage are I suppose."

Besides Phantom and Big Fish, you've appeared in several Broadway shows such as Shrek and in Les Mis where you understudied the lead roles. How difficult is it to be in a show while also understudying the lead male role and what was the experience like when you went on?

"A lot of understudying has to do with your work ethic and the person you’re understudying. I’ve been so fortunate to work with so many talented men who haven’t looked at me as a problem and more as their Savior when they need someone to go on. There can be an interesting chemistry between an understudy and the lead player- but that’s only if someone’s trying too hard. When everyone knows what their role is and everyone’s just coming in to do their job it’s fantastic to be a part of that because it really helps your bond with actors who have more experience with you and you’re able to learn from them and glean from them. 

When it comes to Phantom I am incredibly supportive of the men who go on for me when I’m not there because it gives me the opportunity to rest, it gives me the opportunity to go off and do something else besides a show for a couple days, and it gives them the opportunity to put on the mask and have those fantastic moments. So when you look at it as a win-win situation it’s a really wonderful relationship."

What has been your most memorable stage experience?

"I mean my first night as the Phantom is of course very memorable. But I have some other ones too; the ones where you get asked to do something crazy, like go on for someone with no time to spare and you do and you’re (thankfully) wonderful and you feel good because you worked hard and you showed everyone that you cared because the show wasn’t fractured because you were ready to go on-those are fun, loving moments in theater."

What are your dream roles?

"Two big ones right now are Emile de Becque in South Pacific and Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha. And then of course there’s that elusive new musical that hasn’t been written yet where there’s a lead or supporting leading character written for me; that’s of course my dream role."

What can concert goers expect from the upcoming "Broadway Fright Night" Halloween concert at Scottsdale Center for the Arts? 

"They’re coming in to have a great time, connect with people, & hear some A-class vocalists all while being safe and socially distanced and protecting each other. We need these arts havens right now- where we can still congregate and experience arts together."

Will this be the first time you’ll be singing a song from Phantom since you last appeared in the show at the Majestic Theatre last March?

"It’s not actually! I’ve done a couple virtual galas for some symphonies and music festivals this summer- but it will be the first time live in public so that‘s somethin!"

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