BWW Interviews: Galen Crawley Explains Why Aurora Theatre's MARY POPPINS is Full of Magic, Laughs, and Tears
If you have been paying attention to the Atlanta theatre scene for the last three years, actress Galen Crawley has undoubtedly caught your eye. From leading family-friendly musicals (The Narrator in The Lyric's JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT and Princess Fiona in The Alliance's SHREK THE MUSICAL) to starring in more cutting-edge material (Chrissie in HAIR at Serenbe Playhouse and Rachel Jackson in BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON at Actor's Express), Crawley is certainly one of the community's brightest rising stars.
This week she is back on an Atlanta-area stage, this time as the titular MARY POPPINS at The Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville. The show opens on July 17th and runs through August 31st. You can purchase your tickets on the theatre's website or by calling (678) 226-6222
Recently, I spoke to the utterly charming Galen about taking on this iconic role and how important it is to her to be a working actress in her home town of Atlanta.
BWW: To start, I'm going to run through a little bit of what I have been able to piece together of your bio. So, feel free to correct me if I screw anything up. You are from the Atlanta-area originally...
Crawley: Yep, from Snellville.
Snellville, ok. You performed at Stone Mountain when you were in high school...
Ok, then you went away to college at Webster University in St. Louis, and are now back working professionally in Atlanta. You've only been out of school for a few years, but you've racked up quite a list of credits in nearly all of the city's major theatres. What does it mean to be able to work pretty regularly as an actress back in Atlanta, especially as the community is growing by leaps and bounds all the time?
Oh man. It's amazing. And I feel really really lucky that I get to do what I love in my hometown. I mean, yea, I grew up in the suburbs, but Atlanta is very much my home. I lived in St. Louis for four years, and I was in New York for a minute... I was in New York for like six months, but the minute I came back to Atlanta, a light bulb went off. This is my home, and it's so amazing that there's a theatre community here; that I can actually support myself here. I never would have thought that when I was in high school, I never would have thought I could be a theatre actress in Atlanta. So, it's pretty fantastic.
I didn't grow up in Atlanta, so I don't have the background that you do, but was the theatre community not as extensive before you went away to school as it is now?
I don't... I don't think it was. Now, I also, of course, was 18 when I left, and wasn't living in the city proper, but my view of Atlanta was always that there wasn't a theatre community, so I was really surprised when I came back. I actually came back because I was cast in a show. I was cast in a show at Theatre in the Square (THE LITTLE FOXES), and I came back just intending to be here for the two months I was working on that show, and then I started auditioning for other stuff, and kept getting cast. So, I was like, "Why would I go back to New York, where I wasn't getting any work, and where going to auditions is such a rigmarole, when I can actually do what I love in my home city?"
So you didn't plan on being back here for long, but now it's like three years later and you have become a major player in Atlanta theatre, so what do you think are this community's strengths that have allowed it to be as successful as it has been in recent years?
Well, I think the major strength is that it's really supportive. It's really supportive, and kind, and inclusive. And that's... I tell people sometimes that going to an audition in town is almost more like going to a house party, because everybody is having so much fun. Everyone is just hanging out and talking. Especially when you are at a callback and you are getting paired up with other people to read; it kind of just feels like a party, because everybody's having fun and encouraging each other, and even swapping advice sometimes. Someone won't be sure how to pronounce something, and someone else will jump in and help.
Yes, there's a competitive nature, as in everyone wants the work, but I don't feel like it's competitive to the point where you feel like other people are out to get you. I think for the most part it's very supportive, and people are really happy for other people's successes; which is amazing... and so weird.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that isn't the experience you had in New York.
(Laughs) No...no. Part of that too, I think, is that it is a smaller community where everyone really does know each other. And the people that I am generally competing with for roles happen to be good friends. But we met, and got to know each other, in audition waiting rooms. Before we ever hung out and got coffee, we knew each other, and liked each other, because we would run into each other at auditions. It's not an atmosphere where people are really out to get each other.
On the other hand I think what makes Atlanta really fantastic and really special is, because the film community is growing so much, more and more really talented actors are choosing Atlanta as a base. Even in the three years that I've been back here, I feel like the talent pool has gotten exponentially deeper. Every time I go see a show, it's like every season the shows are better and better and better, because more people are deciding to stay in Atlanta, which is really fantastic.
Absolutely. Now, let's talk about you a bit. So far this year, between Mary Poppins and Fiona in SHREK THE MUSICAL at the Alliance, you've had quite the year playing some pretty major children's movie roles. As an actress, do you approach these iconic characters differently than you would from a role in say HAIR or HIGH SOCIETY?
Oh yea, absolutely, absolutely. I have to say, I approached Fiona and Mary very differently. Rosemary Newcott, the director for SHREK, made it very obvious right away, that while SHREK is a movie, our production wasn't going to be drawn too much from the movie. So, I really tried to make Fiona my own. I didn't watch the movie again, I'd seen it, but I was like, "Well, I'm going to do my own thing with this."
We didn't do the same costume design that the movie does, which a lot of productions of the stage musical do. But we really took a step back from that. But, then for Mary, (laughs) I knew I would have to really draw from Julie Andrews' performance, because it is an extremely iconic character from an extremely iconic movie that, I think the vast majority of our audiences will be coming to see the show, because they grew up with the movie.
So, I really really have been working on channeling my inner-Julie Andrews. I do want to do something that's going to be very recognizable, and yea, I want to put my own little spin on it too. But for the most part, Mary is a character that you have to do justice to. You can't just, go off and do your own thing with her.
Keeping it recognizable as a character is one thing, but the show itself is not completely analogous to the movie. So, for people who don't know that, what can they expect the differences between the stage version and the film version to be?
Well, there's no animation.
(Laughs) Really? I'm shocked.
(Laughs) I know, I know.
I figured (Director) Justin Anderson could have figured out a way to make that happen.
If anyone could, he could. (Laughs) It certainly is very different, and we're not gonna be laughing on the ceiling, but I think the spirit of the movie is there. I think the heart of the movie is there. And I think there is some extra magic that hopefully will make up for some of the missing...
You mentioned not laughing on the ceiling, but there is still flying in the show.
Oh, there's flying. Ooooh, there's flying.
Have you ever flown for a show before?
I haven't, no.
You aren't afraid of heights are you?
I.... (laughs) no. I'm not afraid of heights.
But you're afraid of falling?
Yes. I was just saying the other day, the hardest thing for me to do on stage is walk down stairs. In life, yea, you just run down stairs, but then for me somehow, like a staircase on stage, I'm always afraid I'm gonna fall down it.
I know that we're going to be in good hands. I know that everything is going to be really well taken care of, but until I get up in the harness for the first time, there's a part of me that's gonna be like, "What?"
So, when does that process start?
We start flying on Tuesday (July 8th). We go into tech next weekend, and we start flying right before that.
Whew, good luck with that.
I'm excited about it. Just because I don't know what to expect right now, I've got some butterflies, but I know it's gonna be fine. I trust everybody.
Well, you won't have a lot of time to prepare for the flying, but hopefully you've had plenty of practice to get the spelling down for Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?
Just saying it is hard enough, let alone spelling it in a song, and I don't know if you guys are doing anything similar to the traditional choreography for it, but that's got to be a handful.
Jen McQueen is the choreographer, and we aren't doing the Broadway choreography, but we are spelling. It's her own choreo for the spelling, but, yes, we are spelling it. And honestly, verbally spelling it, wasn't that hard; it was just like learning any other song lyric, but trying to marry it with those hand motions... You walk backstage while we are rehearsing, and you see half the ensemble is standing in line, going over the letters over and over and over again.
Now, I know you did HIGH SOCIETY with Jen McQueen, but I don't believe you've worked with Justin Anderson before?
No, this is my first time working with Justin.
Which is hard to imagine, since it seems like he directs every show in Atlanta now.
He is the single hardest working man in Atlanta, not just in the theatre industry; in general.
It doesn't hurt that he is genuinely a nice guy as well.
I think that's part of what puts him in demand so much. Not only is he incredibly talented, and extremely smart, he's also so fun to work with. When you work with Justin, you are getting the absolute best of all worlds.
How has it been rehearsing, not only with him, but with the whole cast?
It's been fantastic. This is also my first time working with Ann-Carole (Pence, Music Director), and she is amazing. She's so great, I couldn't believe how quickly we learned all of that music. And the cast has been a ton of fun. It's my first show with Googie (Uterhardt), my first show with Heidi (Cline McKerley), so it's really been awesome. I kind of feel like it's a "Best of Atlanta."
Absolutely, the cast is made up of some pretty heavy-hitters from the community.
Mhmmm, yea. I think people don't know Liza (Jaine) yet, but she's about to have a whole host of new fans. She is absolutely stellar as Mrs. Banks.
Well, that's a role that, in the stage version, took on quite a bit more importance than it had in the film version.
Yea, she's not a suffragette, which I do think might disappoint some people. I mean, in the movie, Mrs. Bank and Mary never speak to each other. But in the stage version, they really work closely together.
Well, with the Tom Hanks-Emma Thompson movie that came out last year, they make the point that the original film was about "Saving Mr. Banks," but the stage version is as much about saving Mrs. Banks as it is Mr. Banks.
I think she's trying to save both of them. It's not just Mr. Banks; Mrs. Banks needs just as much guidance. What I think is so wonderful about it is Mr. and Mrs. Banks aren't awful parents or awful people by any stretch of the imagination. They are good people who love their kids. But, just like a modern family, it can be so hard to keep perspective in the day-to-day. What I think is so great about MARY POPPINS is that it's really about a family finding perspective, and reminding themselves that the most important thing they have is each other.
If you had to wrap up this show in a nice little package, what can the people coming to see it expect?
Oh, I think they can expect a lot of magic, a lot of magic, and almost certainly a lot of tears. Bill Murphey's (Mr. Banks) made me cry at the end of the show every single time. He is absolutely wonderful.
Don't hesitate to get your tickets, they are available from the Aurora Theatre's website, or by calling (678) 226-6222. I will be seeing the show on Friday, July 18th, so look for my review on BroadwayWorld Atlanta on Wednesday, July 23rd. Also, let me know what you think of the show on Twitter @BWWMatt.
1) Crawley and Andy Meeks (Bert) | BreeAnne Clowdus | Aurora Theatre
2) Cast of LITTLE FOXES | Theatre in the Square
3) Crawley | Greg Mooney | Aliance Theatre
4) Crawley | BreeAnne Clowdus | Aurora Theatre
5) Crawley and Meeks BreeAnne Clowdus | Aurora Theatre