Dallas — Actor Peyton Crim, graduate of South Garland High School and the great music programs of Oklahoma City University (that’s practically in Texas, right?) is coming home. He’s a singer too, a reverberant bass who nicknamed himself “the Human Subwoofer”—and because most of his New York City and regional work has been in musical theater, he probably expected his vocal skills to bring him back to Dallas.
Instead, it was comedy that carried him home—slapstick, over-the-top, screams of laughter comedy. Crim is part of the first national touring company of The Play That Goes Wrong, a frenetic corpse-in-the-parlor farce (The Mousetrap meets Monty Python, said one review) running at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House from June 11-16.
The Broadway production opened in April 2017 and ran for nearly two years, and featured two actors from North Texas, both of whom went into main roles as replacements for original cast members: Akron Watson, and Jonathan Fielding, co-founder of Amphibian Stage Productions. The show is now running off-Broadway.
Written by and for Britain’s Mischief Theater Company—founded by alums of the prestigious London Academic of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) who clearly were fed up with Shakespeare—the play was a huge, laugh-‘til-you-cry hit in London, and won the 2015 Olivier Award for best comedy. After a successful Broadway run, The Play seems to be everywhere—touring the U.S. while still onstage both in New York and London. Reviewers have called it “hilarious”...”a demolition derby”…”old-school, retro amusement”…”a collective actors’ nightmare.”
One thing’s for sure: it’s exhausting. TheaterJones caught up with Crim (who probably needed a nap more than an interview!) just after he’d finished a matinee performance in Baltimore—and was about to leave for Dallas.
TheaterJones: You were born in these parts, I hear—so this is a homecoming.
Peyton Crim: I started off in Mesquite, but we moved when I was three, and I grew up and went to high school in Garland. My Mom lives in North Dallas now.
Then you’ll have family at the show—and maybe some friends?
I’ll see some classmates, I think. My high school drama teacher is coming to see the show and I’m very excited about that—haven’t seen her since graduation.
Were you a theater kid even before high school?
I started in middle school just for something to do. I did both theatre and choir, and that led me to music theatre, which I’ve done lots of in New York. This show is my first straight play, and my role [in the touring company] was cast first with an actor who went off to do Kiss Me Kate [the current revival on Broadway with Kelli O’Hara]. So here I am!
And the premise of the play is that a little college drama department gets a surprise donation and can afford, finally, to put on a big show? Until now (so goes one of the jokes) their tiny budget has only let them do scaled-down stuff like Two Sisters…and Cat.
They’re the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society—which is the U.K. version of a technical college. So the drama department finally gets the money for a big production, and when you see the play, it’s opening night. And the dress rehearsal went PER-fectly.
Oh, no. We all know what that means—disaster on opening night. And who do you play?
I play Robert, who is the actor playing Thomas [“the corpse’s tweedy best friend,” said one review]. Robert thinks he’s the best actor since Richard Burton. In fact, he thinks he’s better than Burton, God’s gift to the stage. But until now, he’s been relegated to playing a tree, or the lame horse in War Horse. This is his big chance to shine, and he’s going to plow through no matter what happens.
We play both the characters in the play, and the actors who are doing the parts. But it’s different from a show like Noises Off, where you get to know the actors behind the scenes directly. What you see is the performance onstage, and when things go wrong, the actor ‘behind’ the character peeks through. But it’s all done in the moment—you see The Murder at Haversham Manor as we are trying to put it on.
Farce looks, from the outside, as if it would be very hard to learn—all the split-second timing and physical objects that seem out to get the actors.
We were lucky in that by the time we came in [as the touring company] all the beats [of the action] were pretty firmly there. We were encouraged to watch the Broadway show during rehearsal, not to pull directly from those actor’s choices, but to get the timing down. And we also got to rehearse on the Broadway stage, which never happens. So when you see the show, you’ll understand if you tried to just rehearse in a studio, you’d get killed onstage.
Because the spatial relationships onstage are so specific—you have to learn it in place, really.
You can literally get smooshed by something at any point. We learned the show first just as it’s written—if you take all the bits of business out, it’s only 30 minutes long. And once we got that down, we started adding in layers and layers of physical comedy.
Are you on high alert every night, or is there a point when you relax a bit?
The moment when you let your guard down is when someone could get hurt. It does get into your body, as any physical thing does. We just took a three-week hiatus, the first big break since the show began touring last September. And we came back kind of worried about the time that had passed—but we got onstage and started doing it, and it was all there.
Have you fallen victim to any ‘accidents’ that aren’t part of the script?
There’s stuff that happens every night. Not big stuff, but if something goes wrong onstage, the audience doesn’t know. Which is our advantage—we play it off like it’s supposed to happen. So we drop the desk off an eight-foot platform? It’s all part of the play.
I’d imagine that the stage managers—and all the people backstage keeping track of things—are real heroes in this show.
Yes, we put our complete faith in both our great stage managers, and they’ve bailed us out any number of times. And one of our assistant stage managers came from the Broadway company, and knows the show like the back of her hand.
You’ve done a lot of singing in musicals, with regional companies and in New York. You were part of the off-Broadway cast for the Irish Rep’s small-ensemble productions of On a Clear Day and Finian’s Rainbow a couple of years ago. And you really don’t get to sing a note in this show?
There’s absolutely no singing, but due to the nature and the intensity of the show, I use a lot of my vocal training to stay healthy. I’m almost singing my lines in the way I am supporting them; if I didn’t do that, I would lose my voice.
So the breath work is the same.
Yes, exactly the same. I try to make it sound as unplanned as I can when I’m yelling, but it’s a little melodic if you listen.
In 2017, you sang in the City Center Encores! cast of Brigadoon, which had a terrific cast.
Yes, I was with Kelli O’Hara, Stephanie J. Block, Patrick Wilson. It was only two weeks long, but that’s still the coolest career experience I’ve had. I went from working at a gym, not having booked anything in a few months, to working with all these people I’d been listening to for years. And I just knew they were going to be sooo impressed with me!
Kelli O’Hara is from Oklahoma City University too.
Yes, she was 10 years ahead of me there. We chatted about it, shared some stories. I had actually really embarrassed myself with her three years before, when I saw her in The King and I in New York. I went up to her at the stage door to say ‘You’ve made the most beautiful recording of a female voice of all time, I just want you to know that.’ And she said ‘okay, thank you’ and kind of backed away. When I saw her at rehearsals I asked her ‘Do you remember a guy a couple of years ago who told you...’ And she said ‘Oh, that was you!’
What musicals are on your short list—shows you’ve just got to do someday?
Oh, Sweeney Todd was my gateway drug. I had a friend in choir with me, who pulled me into the show choir closet like we were doing something nefarious—and he put on the bootleg VHS of Sweeney Todd. From that moment, I was hooked. I’d love to do Floyd Collins, which is hardly ever done. My voice is really suited for all those classics. And with the very justly deserved popularity of shows like the Broadway revival of Oklahoma!, which I saw last weekend, they’re kind of steering away from that classic voice sound. Not the coolest thing for me. I appreciate the art regardless, but I’d like to work!
You’re about nine months into this tour, and just spent some hiatus time in Europe. Was that the first real ‘time off’ since you started?
That was our first break since Thanksgiving—it’s just how the schedule worked out. And we travel on most of our off days. I hadn’t ever been to Europe, and planned a great three-week vacation—but I wasn’t feeling very rested at the end of it. I walked all over that continent, one city every day. August 19 is our last day, and I’ll miss the show, but I’ll also enjoy sleeping…a lot.
What would you like audiences to know as they go into the show?
I’d tell them not to come in with any preconceived expectations—just be ready to laugh. Unlike any show I’ve been in, the audience is riding a wave of laughter all the way through. It’s got laughs for all ages. There’s a lot of slapstick, but it’s incredibly well set up, and very smart.
It’s like a two-hour Carol Burnett sketch, that’s the best way I can describe it.