Brian Justin Crum returns to Houston, this time as “the one.”
by Donalevan Maines
Could Brian Justin Crum be “the one”? The boyishly handsome, out, and single performer has been a rising star since he cut short his senior year of high school for a job performing roles in Wicked throughout the country. Broadway beckoned him for a revival of Grease, followed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal. Next, he wore a loincloth in the title role of Tarzan.
In January 2012, OutSmart interviewed Crum as a featured player on the Houston stop of the national tour of The Addams Family. This month, he returns to the Hobby Center with a star on his dressing-room door, in the leading role of Galileo in We Will Rock You, featuring the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen. In a future where live music is banned, Galileo is “the one” whom fellow misfits believe can save “the Power of Rock.”
When Crum learned of the show’s first North American tour, he says, “I knew I had to get the job!”
Crum made his stage debut at age six as Michael in Peter Pan. “It was an after-school theater program in San Diego where my mom put me and my two older sisters ’til she could get off work,” says Crum. “The good ol’ days.”
“Coming out” as a teenager, he says, “was a pretty easy process. “I was 15 and my mom pretty much asked me if I was gay, and I told her I was,” Crum explains. “She wanted me to make sure I knew that it was not always the easiest path in life. She was very supportive, and I was very blessed to have her support.”
In his junior year at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, he says, “I started driving up to Los Angeles for auditions. I was 18 when I got my big callback, for Wicked. So I didn’t graduate. I moved to New York when I was 18, and I’ve been there ever since.”
In 2007, Crum debuted on Broadway as the understudy for both Danny and Kenickie in a revival of Grease, which starred Max Crumm and Laura Osnes, who had won their roles in the NBC reality series Grease: You’re the One that I Want! (Osnes has since been nominated twice for the Tony Award, in 2011 as Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde and last year for the current Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Austin Miller of Alvin was “Hot Danny” on the reality show, placing second in the viewers’ votes.)
Crum continued in the 2008 national tour of Grease that featured fifth American Idol champion Taylor Hicks as the Teen Angel.
Beginning in 2009, Crum was the standby, or understudy, for both young male roles in Next to Normal. “I was so lucky because I felt such a connection to both characters,” says Crum. “Henry was this stoned hippie who didn’t know what he was doing, but he knew he loved Natalie. He was so sweet and so soft.
“Gabe was this sexpot ‘bad boy,’” he adds. “He was every woman’s dream. I would play one of the two, whoever I got, all the time.” One weekend, for example, he played Gabe in the matinee and Henry at night.
“Understudy rehearsal was always so funny,” he laughs. “There was just myself and Michael Berry, who covered the father and the doctors. The ladies each had their own understudy. Michael and I would switch characters back and forth. It was hilarious.”
In the summer of 2011, Crum swung above the stage in Tarzan at the North Shore Music Theatre outside Boston. The show, based on the popular 1999 Disney film with a Grammy Award-winning score by Phil Collins, played only 486 times on Broadway in 2006, so playwright David Henry Hwang revised the book in rehearsals at North Shore.
“It was a really awesome experience to do the premiere of the new material,” says Crum. As for appearing onstage in a loincloth, he adds, “It was wonderful. It was freeing not to have to wear a ton of hot clothes. I wore underwear that attached to it, but otherwise it was just the loincloth.”
Crum has also appeared in productions of Altar Boyz, Hairspray, The Hot Mikado, and Jesus Christ Superstar.
In September, the cast of We Will Rock You began rehearsals with British comedian Ben Elton, who wrote the original show that’s been a hit in London for 12 years. “He was warm and welcoming of our ideas for updating the show and making it modern for today,” says Crum. “It felt like a collaboration.”
While specially adapted for American audiences, We Will Rock You is still about a futuristic tale in which a massive corporation, Globalsoft, sends computer-generated music to inhabitants of iPlanet, including both the soulless Ga Ga kids and the rebellious Bohemians. “Live music is not only taboo, but illegal,” says Crum, whose character discovers that he is “the one” to save rock and roll and set iPlanet free.
“The show has huge appeal for the LGBT audience,” says Crum. “It’s all about people who are different and don’t fit in. The Bohemians are such wonderful, kooky characters who learn to be excited about their weirdness. They’ve been bullied, but in finding themselves they figure out that individualism is not a bad thing, but something to be celebrated.”
Crum says he grew up a big fan of Queen music (such as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody to Love,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and “We Are the Champions”) and its flamboyant lead singer, Freddie Mercury, who died from AIDS complications on November 29, 1991—just a day after telling the world that he was stricken with the disease.
“Freddie Mercury was gay, and the music is so emotionally charged that I find myself, as a gay man, feeling that I know what he was saying in the songs, and I know what he was feeling,” says Crum.
What: We Will Rock You
When: January 22–February 2
Where: The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
Info: Tickets, which start at $24, are available at tuts.com or by calling 713.558.2600.
Donalevan Maines also writes about Next to Normal in this issue of OutSmart magazine.