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BWW Interview: Max Crumm Is the One That You Want in THE FANTASTICKS

Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's endearing musical The Fantasticks opened in New York City over 53 years ago and is still playing at the Snapple Theater Center on Broadway. When it opened, Kenneth Nelson played the role of Matt, the love-struck youth. He was succeeded by a lengthy list of young actors--each bringing his own special talents to the role. In recent years, Anthony Fodorov, Nick Spangler and Aaron Carter have enjoyed lengthy runs in the role. Now Matt is being played by Max Crumm, who made an impression on television viewers in "GREASE: You're The One That I Want" from which he was selected to play Danny Zuko in the most recent revival of GREASE on Broadway.

Crumm is very good in The Fantasticks. He brings great humor to the role and--unlike one of his predecessors--his singing is pitch perfect. Quite frankly, his rendition of "I Can See It" ranks among the finest heard. He also connects with the audience in a special way and they respond in kind.

Talking with Crumm in the theater lobby before a recent performance of the show finds him to be affable and intelligent, making it a pleasure to converse with him. Also enjoyable was the jazz recording of THE FANTASTICKS score that was playing in the background throughout the interview. It added a "special something" to the conversation.

Max Crumm was born in California but spent his formative years with his family in Arizona before he moved back to California alone when the lad was 18. His family remains in Arizona to this day. He did children's community theater at both Desert Stages in Scotsdale and the Valley Youth Theater in Phoenix, run by Bobb Cooper. Crumm happily notes that several members of that group are all doing well professionally. "My friend Charity Angel Dawson is going to play the Fortune Teller in SIDE SHOW and I grew up with Emma Stone who's about to do some live theater work. Kimiko Glenn, who's on "Orange is the New Black" has done a lot of stage work, too. Randomly, then, my little children's group has been doing quite a bit of work on stage. I'm glad for them all," he says.

It's not unusual for someone who comes from a theatrical family to become involved with performing himself. "My father and mother started a theater company when I was really young, and I always remember being around theater because it was part of my family," the actor recalls. "My father is a comedian/director and my mother is a fantastic triple threat; she's really glorious. At a certain point I wanted to get their attention so I expressed a desire to be in their shows. I was always watching their productions and seeing how awesome my parents would become when they were on stage. It was a natural progression for me. I've been doing musicals since I was six years old."

When asked about how he became involved with the reality TV show that would plant him in a starring role on Broadway, the actor chuckles. "My roommate at the time saw a TV commercial for it and shouted to me while I was in the shower. He told me that there was an audition for the TV show and that they would be casting a production of GREASE along the style of 'American Idol'. He encouraged me to audition. I thought it was weird but knew it was something I'd wind up watching every week." That was a Thursday and Crumm remembers not being able to sleep that night. He went online and looked up the TV show, discovering that the auditions were to be held the very next day. He felt it was a sign of some sort. "I got myself two Red Bulls at around 5 AM and took a short nap. Then I drove to Venice Beach, where they were having the audition. I got in line for the reality show at about 6 AM. I auditioned and they never let me go. I guess I came across as kooky and that made them interested in me. I was one of the people who was featured a lot because I was wacky," he remembers.

Winning "GREASE: You're The One That I Want" stands out vividly in the memory of the actor. "It was nuts," he says. "I remember my first thoughts were. 'Oh, no!' because I liked the guy I was against so much that I wanted him to get the show. You see, he wanted it very much. I was just there having a good time. I must admit that toward the end I realized I actually might win but I put that out of my mind because I felt it was so crazy." Once the initial shock was over, Crumm realized how great the opportunity was that he'd been given. Then he was haunted by the notion of actually having to DO the role of Danny Zuko on Broadway. "My family was there when I won and we were all in a very celebratory mood. For sure it was uniquely singular and a once-in-a-lifetime experience." he states.

Doing GREASE on Broadway for a full year was another special experience for Crumm. "The rehearsals were great and the cast was incredible," he says. "I absolutely love Kathleen Marshall and doing GREASE with her was a dream. It will remain one of the highlights of my life. Laura Osnes played Sandy and she's become a true friend. She's like an old war buddy. I love her very much. In fact, she came to see The Fantasticks just the other night."

There were many demands put on Crumm during the Broadway run. "I'd been doing theater all my life but here I was doing eight performances a week in a show that featured some really challenging dances. It was rough. Also, we had between 100 to 200 people waiting at the stage door after every performance and that's another part that was both fun and crazy. It was also taxing. I was only 21 and just having a great time but it was hard dealing with such large numbers of fans after giving an exhausting performance."

Thinking back, Crumm realizes that at first there weren't even have barricades set up outside after the show to control the mobs waiting to meet the cast. "Eventually they realized we needed them and they also had to provide us with a car to take us home after the shows," he says. "You see, people were following us and it became really weird. I guess some guys are better at dealing with that sort of thing but I soon came to the realization that I really enjoy doing the show for the people in the audience but after the performance I like to retreat off. I'm friendly but not as friendly as some people would want me to be at the stage door. GREASE was an extreme experience, though."

Reflecting further on his experience in GREASE, Crumm says: "Danny isn't my kind of role. It's a part that I did and I feel I did it well. I enjoyed myself but I was miscast. That might be the reason why I was so shocked about winning the TV show. I knew that I was more of a Doody: a role I had played previously. I was wishing the theater community could see what I could really do but GREASE wasn't the vehicle for that. I felt Laura had a greater opportunity to highlight her talents in GREASE. Danny Zuko just wasn't perfect role for me." Upon finishing his run in GREASE, Crumm returned to LA. "The experience was singular for me and I wanted to get back home and see my family. Another thing, I'm gay but I wasn't out at the time. I wanted to go home, come out and be myself. New York's a great place to do that but I wanted to lay low for a bit. I did a few movies in California and after 2 1/2 years I wanted to keep the ball rolling and come back to the Big Apple concentrating on theater because that's what I really love. There's theater in LA but not the kind you find here."

In January 2011 Max Crumm returned to New York and did some readings. "I got a show called F*CKING UP EVERYTHING. That was at the Elektra theater, Off Broadway and it was probably the best 'welcome back' imaginable for me! It was about hipsters in Brooklyn in which I did some crazy puppets, and it allowed me to be wacky. It was the perfect show to come back with. It's odd, but many of the things I've gotten since are because someone saw me in that show. It was something that was really suited to my talents," he states.

F*CKING UP EVERYTHING was followed by a stint in another Off Broadway show, this one was DISASTER: THE MUSICAL, written by Seth Rudetsky. "I was sitting in my apartment when Seth called. He's a very dear friend and he asked what I was doing. I told him I was watching television. He then told me that I was going to be in DISASTER: THE MUSICAL and I'd be the first replacement for the role of Scott. Hands down, it turned out to be the best experience I've ever had. The cast was filled with some of the greatest people I've ever met," Crumm explains.

THE FANTASTICKS became part of Max Crumm's resume in another unusual way: "I did a reading last summer here at the Snapple for a play called YOU'RE NOT REALLY HELPING. It was with Daphne Rubin Vega, Aaron Simon Gross and Cathy Russell--who created the Snapple Theater Center [and stars in THE PERFECT CRIME upstairs from where The Fantasticks is playing]. Cathy and I played doctors and our personalities clicked. She was very funny as I remember. Afterwards she called me up and asked if I'd be interested in coming into The Fantasticks. I told her I'd be thrilled! That led to coming in and reading for Tom Jones. I'm really grateful that the last two shows I have done have been through people I know."

The rehearsal period for a replacement is miniscule. "I had three rehearsals and a put-in, so a lot of the work is done at home," Crumm tells. "First there's the blocking, then there's the music and then one rehearsal puts it all together.. Finally you get a put-in with the cast and you go on the next night."

It's all worth it, though, to Crumm. "This show is so refreshing! I love classical shows but oddly I'd never seen this one until I was auditioning for it. They invited me to come and see it. Once I did, I couldn't wait to get on stage. I love it! It's a joy, it's fun, it's playful, and it's filled with magic. Anyone who knows me knows I love magic, so I'm living out my dreams!"

There's no doubt that The Fantasticks and GREASE make different vocal demands on a singer and Crumm agrees: "GREASE has more of a pop score and I prefer to sing more pop music. This show is fun because it was a challenge at first to show the more 'legit' side of my voice. Now, though, I'm having a good time doing it."

Not only is the young actor having a good time doing The Fantasticks but the audience is having a good time watching him in the role. There was considerable positive buzz about his performance during intermission at a recent performance. Crumm may be one in a long line of actors who have taken on this role but he succeeds in making it his own. There's a certain goofiness in his performance that brings out the awkwardness of the youth he's portraying . It works nicely and leaves the crowds delighted. The Fantasticks is one of those shows that bears repeated visits and Max Crumm's performance in it makes it very special.



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From This Author Joseph F. Panarello