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BWW Interview: Rheaume Crenshaw's GROUNDHOG DAY Marathon

BWW Interview: Rheaume Crenshaw's GROUNDHOG DAY Marathon

You'll understand why Rheaume (pronounced Ray-ohm) Crenshaw's right arm gets fatigued during Groundhog Day. She plays Doris, a waitress who lifts and holds a donut tray cover over and over and over again until Phil Connors (the energetic Andy Karl) learns his lesson. Those familiar with the movie, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, know that Phil, a television weatherman, gets shunted to frigid, smalltown Punxsutawney, Pa., to cover the annual festivities. He is not a happy camper.

Expertly timed set changes are worth the price of admission. Keep your eye on the bed. Illusions are by Paul Kieve and choreography by Peter Darling. Rob Howell is the scenic and costume designer.

"It's so much fun," Crenshaw said before a recent rehearsal. "It's like running a marathon because of all the set changes."

It's a change of pace for Crenshaw in one regard. "I don't think I've ever been in a musical where I felt cast as a character actor," she said. "We're all a little silly and quirky," she said of the ensemble of about 24.

The stage is comprised of several moving parts. With revolving pieces on the stage, it was only a matter of time before something happened."The stage broke," Crenshaw said. "It was about 15 minutes into the show and it was determined it wouldn't be possible to get it working.

"So we all sat on stage and gave a concert version of the show. The audience" -- encouraged by an open bar, perhaps? - "was enthusiastic and understanding and we all had a great time," she added. "It was amazing, kind of crazy to see. Even though we were doing the show in a different way, we felt the audience come together and played along," she said.

"They were just as excited, and then they opened the bar and gave out free drinks," Crenshaw said. The audience was also offered the opportunity to come back to see another preview. "It was an opportunity to do the show in a way that never happened before." Or since, fortunately.

Doris sees herself as the unofficial manager of the restaurant where she works. "I decided Doris runs the diner," Crenshaw said, "and I think it's a weird thing to say, but it's the Cheers bar of the town. Everyone ends up here. Then Groundhog Day happens and everything shuts down and repeats slightly different than before."

Doris's dream is to be a good singer. She gets many opportunities to try, but only succeeds, well, you know. "She's never letting go of her dream of being a singer, then she comes with gusto and really sings," Crenshaw said. "And she's also a good waitress; she's vibrant even when she's serving the coffee. Always with a conversation."

The ensemble turns on a dime from repeated scene to repeated scene. Each time there are more and more complex entanglements, revolving around Phil and his never-ending battle with time.

"The challenge is keeping the energy up when you're giving out so much," Crenshaw said. "It's very hard physically, and at the same time, everyone is so encouraging to each other. You don't have a choice-you have to keep going so you don't get left behind," she said with a laugh.

"This isn't the easiest job I've had physically but it's a joy," said Crenshaw. "I'm grateful to be here.

It's her second Broadway show. "The first was AMAZING GRACE. It was a hard subject matter during a time when there was so much happening in the country with Ferguson, Chicago and the others. We had been in Chicago, not far from where everything was going on," Crenshaw said. "This is a much lighter musical.

"Backstage is a riot. People fly past you for another quick change and it's crazy," she said. "These are incredibly talented people; it makes you want to be better. No one has an ego. We have moments when someone will start doing an interpretative dance in rehearsal and randomly make up songs."

Crenshaw doesn't have her own pre-show routine, but she shares one with the cast. "We have warm-ups that train us to mentally take care of our body. We do a company warm-up for 10 to 15 minutes then we use foam rollers, bands, whatever it takes," she said with a laugh.

GROUNDHOG DAY, book by Danny Rubin and directed by Matthew Warchus, is ultimately a love story with life lessons thrown into the mix. "You have a guy living the same day until finally he recognizes that it pays off to pay attention to what's around you," she said. "It shows that we can change our own outlook on life."

Crenshaw was drawn to performing as a youngster. Her family was awash with artists, writer, poets, actors and musicians. Crenshaw wasn't taught the arts as much as she absorbed them. "I was 4 and wasn't allowed to be in the choir," Crenshaw recalled. "Grandmother said 'She's an old 4.' She was always exposing me to everything, and if she saw something in me, there was no one more supportive."

With a head for numbers, Crenshaw thought she would find success in the business world. But her fate shifted after she took an acting class and fell hard.

"I was terrified," Crenshaw said. "It took awhile for me to want to be in the forefront, but that was the beginning."

Groundhog Day is playing at the August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street

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