INTERVIEW: Waitress star George Crawford chats Ogie, who inspires him & the joy of getting back on stage

George Crawford as Ogie in Waitress – Photo John Persson

George Crawford is a versatile and charming performer, having graduated from Arts Ed in 2019. George was performing in The Book of Mormon when the first lockdown shut the UK theatre industry for a long and painful 18 months. He is currently delighting audiences in the role of the cheeky and endearing Ogie in Waitress the Musical. The show is currently touring the UK and George took some time out of his week at Milton Keynes to chat to us about what he loves about Ogie, how it feels to be back on stage after so long, and who inspired him growing up.

How does it feel to be finally back on stage after almost 18 months? It’s really weird! I feel very fortunate to be in the position that I am after such a long time. I think having that break allowed me to really appreciate what I had prior to COVID with The Book of Mormon. When you are in a job for a certain amount of time, it’s quite easy to settle into it. You want to always try and keep it fresh, but you’re performing a number, then into the next one, then on to the next show, and it becomes ingrained in you. Now I find that I am a lot more appreciative of what I do as a career and the effect that it has on people. I feel a huge amount of gratitude, more than anything. I am so grateful to be a part of this show as well.

You were performing in The Book of Mormon when the first lockdown happened. What was it like to just stop a run that suddenly – and never know if you were going back? I think we all thought that the pandemic wouldn’t be as extreme as it was, and I think that was the case for a lot of other shows as well. We were all kind of joking saying, “I’ll see you in a few weeks, let’s just go and see our family and chill out for a bit”. No one knew how serious everything was going to be, so I didn’t have time to take in the fact that I had just performed my last show. I didn’t get to do the last official show because I (think) I had COVID myself. So many of us were ill at the time, we had all the covers and swings on, and two swings from the West End had to come in to fill the show. We just couldn’t believe how ill everyone was because we didn’t understand the ramifications of the virus, and we weren’t armed with the information we have now. It was only a few months later that the soundtrack happened to be on my phone, and I had a bit of a moment where I thought, “I got to perform these numbers every night”. It was such a weird time in my life.

Can you describe Waitress in one sentence? Being able to find the trust to love yourself to enable you to love someone else.

Had you seen Waitress before you auditioned? Yes. I saw it twice in the West End. I saw it on opening night and again later in the run.

What was it about the role of Ogie that appealed to you? He just brings such a lot of light humour to the show. A lot of his moments come when the show has hit a highly charged or serious point where the audience is really having to engage and concentrate and go through the rollercoaster of what is happening on stage. Then I come on bringing the light relief which allows the show to play with the audiences’ emotions. He is funny and quirky, but he doesn’t just come on stage solely to provide that. There is more to him than the comedy, for example, he’s very focused and driven as a character because he truly believes that Dawn is the girl that he will be with forever. It’s so much fun to play with that, I know his first song can come across as a bit stalkerish, but I don’t interpret it that way. When you listen to the lyrics from his point of view, he thinks he’s delivering this beautiful love poem, but the way that the words come out it sounds like he believes that love literally means you’re never going to get rid of me.

There have been several actors who have taken on the role of Ogie, what makes your interpretation different? I am probably the youngest Ogie that they’ve had, and I am quite an athletic person. In rehearsals, they said to me, it’s great that you are so athletic because it allows you to translate that energy to the stage, but I really had to work on my posture and body language to truly embody Ogie. When I first started, I was quite rigid, and I had to work quite hard to find that Ogie quirkiness inside me. I would definitely say that I bring more of a youthful, energetic feel to Ogie in my version of him. I was quite nervous in rehearsals and prior to starting because the show has got such a loyal following. I was worried about how people would react to little old me, who’s not as high profile as previous actors in the role. It’s been so nice though, everyone has been so lovely, and the feedback that I’ve had has been amazing.

Is there a common quality that you feel you’ve given to or taken from the role of Ogie? We are quite similar. We’re both quite sporadic people, and sometimes I feel like I am just playing myself, apart from the crazy poems he writes! I really do like how he just looks at Dawn and decides that she is the one for him, and that they are meant to be together. I think I would take his persistence to get what he wants (in a safe way).

Do you have a favourite moment in the show and if so, why? Just before my number is a number called Soft Place to Land, the three girls sing it together, and it’s absolutely beautiful. It sounds a bit like a whale call, it’s so floaty, and the harmonies that the girls do together is stunning. They are also making a pie on stage! In rehearsals, I was transfixed by watching all the sugar flowing into the bowl – it’s beautiful.

Being without theatre for so long was tough. Why do you think it is so important to people? Theatre provides a real sense of escape, and I think the last year and a half was really difficult for a lot of people. Theatre gives some people a couple of hours to escape from whatever they have got going on in their lives or from what’s happened in the past. It’s a really amazing way to just sit back and try to forget about everything that is going on. Also, for some people, certain moments really resonate with the audience, for example, with Waitress, people have said that the show has empowered them to leave their abusive relationship or pursue their dream. Live theatre is amazing because you do get a different show every time you go, you are part of that moment, that memory forever.

If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be? This is something that is getting better at the moment, but I would like there to be more clarity after auditions. Making sure that people know if there are being seen again, or not being seen again and just make it really clear to whoever is auditioning where they stand. There are so many people that I know, including myself where we heard nothing and just think – I am assuming that’s a no then? It’s really not good for a lot of people’s mental health to be questioning their performance and have no idea why they didn’t make the cut.

Who inspired you growing up? From a theatre perspective, it was Gene Kelly, but from a family perspective, it was my Nana. She had her own dance school, that’s how my parents met, they both went. I also went when I was younger, so I am really lucky to have a family who understands the arts and participates in shows together. I did A Chorus Line when I was 15 and my dad directed it and my Nana choreographed it, so I have always been surrounded by a family who supports what I am doing. My Nana had a box set of DVDs and one of them was Singin’ in the Rain and I used to watch it all the time and watch Gene Kelly thinking, how is this guy moving like that? Even now, I will randomly get up and put those movies on and watch him. Jeremy Jordan is more of a contemporary inspiration, him, and Aaron Tveit, both of those just play the roles that are very me, so they are definitely a more contemporary inspiration.

What was the last thing you saw at the theatre, and what do you wish you had seen but missed? The last thing I saw was Frozen on opening night, and it was ridiculous! Such a spectacle, I just thought, this is unbelievable. The one show I wish that I’d seen that I didn’t is Parade at the Donmar Warehouse. Everyone talks about that still; I think it was ages ago. The Donmar is so cool and a real bucket list place to perform for me.

We then asked George some Dress Circle Antics quick-fire questions:

Who would play you in the story of your life: Tom Holland

Dream Role: Jack Kelly in Newsies

Favourite musical number: Jet Song in West Side Story

Dream Superpower: I want to be Spider-Man

Favourite musical: Singin’ in the Rain

If you could play the lead in any other musical (regardless of gender) who would it be? Frank Abagnale

Top 5 fantasy dinner guests: Gene Kelly, Lee Evans, Peter Kay, Frank Sinatra, Stan Lee

Tell us something no one knows about you: I am OBSESSED with Spider-Man, but I think a lot of people know that… I cracked my head open in the airport in New York on my way home and had to stay another day. I got staples all up the back of my head.

Catch George as Ogie in the Waitress UK tour – the current leg runs until 5 February 2022.

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