Broadway’s Ben Crawford: Performing in “110 in the Shade”

Now a month into its spring run at Ford’s Theatre, the musical 110 in the Shade is wowing audiences and critics alike with its big heart, marvelously sung performances and dynamic direction and choreography. We recently connected with actor Ben Crawford, who plays the animated rainmaker Starbuck, to hear his thoughts on the production and what his D.C. stage debut has been like. You can catch 110 in the Shade through May 14, 2016.

Ben Crawford and the cast of "110 in the Shade" at Ford's Theatre. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

This is your first time working in D.C. theatre. What about this project most appealed to you? 

There’s a little of everything that makes this project appealing. First: the show. It really isn’t done as much as it should be done. [I think] it is very smart. It’s beautiful.

I also love working with director Marcia Milgrom Dodge. She’s a very real director—perfect for this show. Doesn’t ever force something. She creates a wonderful balance for what we have to portray on stage.

And, of course, being in D.C. at Ford’s Theatre is an incredible feeling. There is so much history present. I’ve portrayed John Wilkes-Booth before so it’s amazing to be in the place where all of that history[happened].

You’ve often taken on roles of confident, self-assured characters like Shrek, Bill Sykes, and now Starbuck. What do you love about these guys? Why is Starbuck an interesting character to play?

I think self-assuredness is one of the easier emotions to play if it’s written in the text. With Starbuck it feels like a very relaxed self-assuredness. N. Richard Nash did an incredible job of creating a character with a massive amount of confidence, yet it never feels like Starbuck’s livelihood depends on it, and that gives an actor a great start.

I also think Starbuck is fun and interesting to play because of Marcia’s vision for the show. Since my audition, I’ve been very excited to work with her on this project because of how we clicked in the room that day. When you and your director are completely on the same page, it’s a beautiful thing!

Ben Crawford (Starbuck) and Tracy Lynn Olivera (Lizzy) in the Ford's Theatre production of "110 in the Shade." Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Are there elements of Starbuck’s character that you and Marcia Milgrom Dodge are highlighting in your portrayal of the role? Please explain.

[We’ve chosen to focus on Starbuck’s] goofiness and quick-witted nature. A guy like Starbuck has to get his point across, understand that you need him, make you love him, and do it all quickly enough that you ultimately don’t notice what’s happening. I think Marcia and I are also smart enough to allow the show do the work itself. It’s strong material.

What have you most enjoyed about working with Marcia Milgrom Dodge?

I think what I love most about Marcia is her directing style. You’re like a little paper boat on the water, and she’s there gently guiding you; simple easy adjustments that bring you to what she wants. Brilliant!

It’s also great that she supports my weirdness on stage.

Describe your favorite musical number or moment in the show.

Easily “Rain Song,” Starbuck’s spiel. Literally the moment where you see what he’s all about; what he’s doing.

What have you most enjoyed in your experience working with Tracy Lynn Olivera, Kevin McAllister and the company of 110 in the Shade so far?

This is a tight-knit cast all around. And for me being the guy from out of town, it has been nothing but wonderful. In fact, last night we were all doing something silly/stupid and laughing our heads off, and our company manager said sarcastically, “it’s a shame you guys don’t like each other!” I mean, it’s just a well-put-together cast. No egos, no problems, everyone just comes in and does their job. It’s great!

Ben Crawford (Starbuck), Tracy Lynn Olivera (Lizzie Curry) and Kevin McAllister (File) in the Ford’s Theatre production of 110 in the Shade. Photo by Carol Rosegg..

When audiences come to see 110 in the Shade this spring, what do you hope they will enjoy? What do you hope they take away with them?

I hope they enjoy it all! Everything is top-notch. The set is absolutely gorgeous, the music is thrilling and the show itself is an American treasure. We truly hope everyone comes to Texas with us for the day! And when they leave, we hope we fill their heads with ideas of love, dreams, listening to their hearts and their heads, and chasing what makes them happy in life.

Lauren Beyea is the Associate Director of Communications and Marketing at Ford’s Theatre, where she oversees media relations. She is editor of the Ford’s Theatre Blog. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenBeyea.