It’s not exactly the way she originally planned it, but when a severe arm injury interrupted her desire to become a classic violinist, she turned toward singing and acting as a way to still pursue her love of performing.
“I was at the University of Michigan and appeared in a show there before I ever saw one,” said Ann Crumb, appearing as Emily at the Media Theatre in Wings through Feb. 26.
“Since that injury meant the end of my days as a successful classical violinist as I saw it, I switched my major to theater, English and language pathology. I eventually tried out for a role in Fiddler on the Roof and got it,” she said.
And that, said Crumb, was the beginning of a whole new and very rewarding career, which has included a Tony nomination, two Barrymore Award nominations and one win, and many more.
“I remember the first time I heard a CD of Evita and wanted to play the lead role so badly I decided I had to study voice so I could sing the role. And I did,” said Crumb. “And over a year later I was on Broadway in Les Miserables.”
She went on to originate numerous leading roles on Broadway and London’s West End. She starred in Aspects of Love — becoming the first American actress chosen by Andrew Lloyd Webber to create a starring role — The Goodbye Girl, Nine, Chess and others.
Crumb, the daughter of composer George Crumb and sister of composer David Crumb, has also amassed many television credits, including the daytime soaps As The World Turns, The Guiding Light, and Another World. She has also been seen in Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Still, her preference will always be on the stage, she said, “although I do really wish I had gone more in the direction of the visual media earlier. The roles I played on the stage were so exhausting that it made it impossible for me to do both, but now appearing on the stage becomes difficult having to do those eight shows a week.”
Today, showing herself more than able to meet challenges head-on, Crumb was perhaps the best choice to appear in Wings, the story of a woman recovering from a stroke who has moments of clarity, during which she speaks of her adventuresome life, including being a wing walker. But then there are the lapses of language and coherence that turns her speech into drivel and turns clarity into confusion.
The actress explained that her background as a certified speech and language pathologist helped her understand the emotionality of the role, realizing what Emily faces while trying to come back to herself from the stroke.
“Emily is a woman who is accustomed to freedom and doing exactly what she wants to do when she wants to do it,” said Crumb, who refuses to disclose her age. “She took chances and now we have a metaphor in the play of a plane crashing and the body crashing.
“I think this is a really fascinating play for everyone,” Crumb continued. “I’ve tried to break down what Emily is trying to say, including her inner dialogue and what goes on in her head. I think she knows what she wants to say but is frustrated and confused as much by the lack of others’ understanding as they are by what sounds to them like gibberish.”
Crumb acknowledged that roles like this are extremely difficult to play.
“This is a musical, and by the last song I’m so choked up I can barely sing a note, so, for me, it’s a pretty powerful experience,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges in playing the part. It becomes very tricky for me.”
When Crumb is not on the stage, she serves as president of The Rescue Express, a non-profit Pennsylvania rescue center for dogs.
“I’ve always loved all living things, so this is the perfect opportunity for me to show that love,” she said. ••
For times and ticket information, call 610-891-0100.