With the upcoming UK & Ireland Tour of Waitress the Musical set to start its run at the New Wimbledon Theatre in September, George Crawford has been cast in the role of Ogie, which will mark the first major role of his career so far. At the end of last year, George was playing Jinx in Forever Plaid at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, but it was only able to open for one night due to the pandemic, however, he will be reprising his role of Jinx when the show returns to Upstairs at the Gatehouse for a new run in June. Before COVID closed theatres around the world early last year, George made his professional debut with the touring production of The Book of Mormon, covering the roles of Elder Cunningham and Elder Price. Graduating from Arts Educational Schools in 2019, in his final year, he played Finch in Disney’s Newsies and appeared at MT Fest UK in The Astonishing Return of… The Protagonists. Talking with George, he answers our questions about being announced as Ogie for the UK & Ireland Tour of Waitress, playing Jinx in Forever Plaid and making his professional debut in The Book of Mormon.
You’ve been announced to play Ogie on the UK & Ireland Tour of Waitress the Musical, how did it feel booking the role and how much did you know about the show before auditioning?
Firstly, thanks so much for asking me to interview! It was such an exciting day finding out that I got the role! This is my first major role I have taken on in my career and it felt like a huge step in the right direction so it was incredibly exciting. I waited for three months to find out so I’d almost written it off, which made the good news even more of a shock. I knew quite a lot about the show as a fan of the music when the show originally came out on Broadway. I was able to watch one of the first performances in the West End with Katharine McPhee and thought it was such a feel-good family show. I enjoyed it so much that I went back a couple more times after! I remember thinking how good the music was, how funny the part of Ogie is and how cool it would be to play that part. Fast forward to a few years later and I’m now about to play Ogie in the Original UK & Ireland Tour cast, it’s crazy and I’m so thankful to the casting team for putting their trust in me for this venture.
What are you most looking forward to for being in the cast and starting the run?
I knew a few people in the West End cast and heard how much of a family the cast became and the friendships that formed there and that is something I’m really looking forward to. Especially after the difficult year we’ve all had – just to be back in a theatre, telling a story, and creating memories – I can’t wait!
At the end of last year, you were cast as Jinx in Forever Plaid, what was the role like to play when the show was able to open for just one performance at Upstairs at the Gatehouse?
Jinx was a really, really cool part to play. He’s a shy top tenor in a barbershop quartet who gets nosebleeds when he hits the high notes so it was a really fun character to play. Jon Plews, the director, and Ian Oakley, the musical director, really allowed me to play with my portrayal of the role. Vocally it is the hardest show I’ve ever been part of. The tight harmonies are so, so difficult but they sound beautiful. Wherever my career goes, that show and that experience will always be a special part of my life. The fact we managed to put a show on in the middle of a pandemic, all be it an ‘opening and closing night’, speaks volumes to the amazing team behind it and I am so excited to have the opportunity to show it to a wider audience in June.
Ahead of Forever Plaid’s return to theatre in June, can you tell us about the show and why would you recommend seeing it?
I am so happy that the show is going ahead in June after only one performance of what deserved to be a life-long run at the Gatehouse! (lol). I have made some really good friends through the show, Alex Zane, Cameron Burt and Chris Short. Those three guys are so talented and when we create a sound together it’s a very special thing to be a part of. In a nutshell the show is about a barbershop quartet who have just landed their first professional gig. On their way they get hit by a bus full of nuns and killed. The show is about all the stars aligning and atmospherical elements coming together to allow them to do the one show they were promised before they died, allowing them to move on to the after life. I’ve been brought up listening to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Nat King Cole and Mel Torme and so the music of the show is very much in homage to these artists and this era of music so I was in my element.
Before the pandemic, you were touring with The Book of Mormon, what was it like to be part of?
I was so excited to be a part of this show. It’s such an amazing feel-good, hilarious show – not only for the audience to watch but also to be a part of. I loved touring around the UK but also parts of Europe I have never been before. I felt so lucky to visit these incredible places for the first time through my work, for example, walking around Switzerland for the first time during the day then performing to the Swiss audiences at night. It was such an incredible and surreal experience.
What were the roles of Elder Cunningham and Elder Price like to learn and cover, and do you have any favourite memories from your time in the musical?
Both of the parts are so contrasting and it was fun to play with the versatility and differences between the two. I initially was cast to play Elder Smith and cover Elder Cunningham, but during my time on the show they offered me cover Elder Price and I learnt whilst on the tour that I was the first person ever to cover both of these roles which was a huge responsibility but such an exciting prospect to me as a graduate. Elder Cunningham is more like me in real life, I’m a bit of a goof so that wasn’t too far from reality so it was really fun to be able to develop that character in my own way. Elder Price has always been one of my dream roles, and one of my favourite memories of my time with the show was making my Elder Price debut closing the final performance in Amsterdam. The theatre there is gorgeous and my girlfriend was able to be there to watch and the whole cast was so supportive.
How was it making your professional debut with the show?
My professional debut was so exciting. I had all my family, girlfriend and close friends there. It was a very nerve-racking experience but once I got through the first couple of numbers it was just pure euphoria for the whole night!
In 2019, you were part of MT Fest UK, can you say more about it and how did you find the experience?
MT Fest was an amazing opportunity that I was able to be a part of through my third year at ArtsEd. MT Fest is a fabulous way of showcasing new writing and new talent. Created by Paul Taylor-Mills, it gives a platform to develop and test out these ideas to live audiences. I was part of a show called The Astonishing Return Of… The Protagonists written by Michael Shaieb and Kevin Del Aguila – if you can imagine Mr Incredible and The Avengers have all retired, they’ve got receding hairlines and dentures and they’re contemplating life, it was hilarious! I got to work with the incredible Oliver Ormson, Christina Bennington and so many more talented performers. Just to be able to sit alongside them onstage and sing these songs, it was such an educational experience.
In your final year of Arts Educational Schools, you played Finch in Disney’s Newsies, how was this?
Newsies was the best experience. It is one of my favourite musicals, alongside West Side Story, so just to be a small cog in the machine of what Newsies ended up being was so amazing. I loved working with Ashley Nottingham! His choreography was super intense (hahah!) but the commitment from the whole cast and team to create the show was second-to-none. The determination and grit from every single person involved to do justice to the show and the opportunity that was given to us was something I will never forget and will be a big part of ArtsEd history. The incredible Luke Sheppard, his attention to even the tiniest details took a show known for its choreography, to a show with a whole new level of storytelling, complete with accurate historic representation, leaving no stone unturned. It was exhausting. It was exciting. It was emotional but it was the most fun I’ve ever had on stage.
Had you always wanted to train at ArtsEd and what are some of the other shows and events you were involved with whilst there?
I went to a performing arts college in Wakefield called CAPA College, one of the free performing arts colleges around the UK, and past alumni went on to go to ArtsEd so I always looked up to them and aspired to go there. A lot of people have said that when you’re auditioning for schools, you’ll get a feel for if the place is right for you or not. I used to think that was a really cheesy thing to say until I was in that position and realised that ArtsEd was the right place for me and I needed to go there. I’m so grateful that I did, I had the best three years there with some of the best training in the UK available. In my first third year show, I played Daniel Beauxhomme and was dance captain in Once On This Island, which was such an incredible and special show to be a part of. I also got to perform West Side Story at the BBC Proms with the John Wilson Orchestra and at the Oliviers.
Where does your love of theatre come from and what are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch?
My Nana was part of a cabaret act when she was younger and used to travel around the GI Camps and eventually became the warm-up act for Dame Shirley Bassey which was pretty cool. I remember her telling me how the tap dancing Calloway Brothers came in and congratulated her after one of her performances, so she has always been my inspiration. I used to perform at her school but stopped when I got to high school, although I’ve always done am-dram shows. My mum’s dad would direct the show, my dad’s mum would choreograph (stay with me here!) and my mum and dad would star in the shows themselves so I’ve always had that family-orientated performing aspect to my life. I feel so lucky to have a family that supports and understand the industry in some ways and I’m pretty sure they were more excited than I was when I got into ArtsEd and got my first show! In terms of my favourite shows, I love anything a bit darker and creative. Shows like Amelie, The Grinning Man and Jesus Christ Superstar at The Open Air Theatre.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
I love seeing my friends (when I’m allowed lol!), seeing my six dogs back at home, watching Marvel films, keeping fit but mainly finding new, funky music. Music is a massive part of my life and has been so helpful to me in the last year and a half, so finding music that I love and that lifts my mood.
Do you have a favourite aspect of working in theatre?
The fact that theatre is live every single time you go on stage and with a new and different audience, it’ll be different each time. Unlike a film, which is the same every time you watch it, theatre is a new performance each night with a new reaction on a new part of the show and it keeps things exciting. That’s the beauty of live theatre.
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