Shane Crawford roasted over controversial theatre debut

Shane Crawford is pictured on stage performing as the Pharaoh, with background dancers behind.
Shane Crawford's turn as the Pharaoh in the musical theatre production of Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat has earned scathing reviews. (Photo by Sam Tabone/WireImage)

AFL legend Shane Crawford's turn on the musical theatre stage might end up being short-lived, after his performance as the Pharaoh in Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat earned scathing reviews.

Crawford, the former Brownlow Medallist and premiership player at Hawthorn, sparked controversy earlier in the year when it was announced he had won the role.

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Some within the arts community, which has taken a battering over the past few years courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic, felt a professional performer had lost out as a result of the production's 'stunt casting'.

Crawford's admission that he had never performed in a musical before was of particular frustration, with Samantha Andrew, a composer based in Melbourne, telling The Age his casting was 'disappointing', but adding she was equally unsurprised by the move.

The scepticism back in August looks to have been prescient, with reviewers giving the Tim Lawson-produced musical generally good reviews - save for Crawford's turn on stage.

The 48-year-old actually earned a degree of praise for his singing - but his overall performance was judged to be a little too amateur hour for The Guardian's Tim Byrne and The Age's Cameron Woodhead.

Byrne gave the show overall four stars out of five, but didn't pull any punches when it came to Crawford's performance.

“Disappointment doesn’t begin to cover it. In a production where every performer is at the top of their game, Crawford’s blundering, tone-deaf turn as the Pharaoh is crushingly bad,” Byrne wrote in his review.

“Utterly devoid of stage presence, incapable of delivering a single line with flair or conviction, his addition to the production reads like a giant insult.”

Woodhead was similarly scathing in The Age, pondering when Red Symons was going to emerge to put an end to what he likened to a bad 'Red Faces' segment.

“The Pharaoh is supposed to be comic relief – a sort of ancient Egyptian Elvis impersonation – but Crawford can’t really hold a tune or wobble a seductive lip (or even find the right spot to stand, sometimes) and his clueless prancing resembles variety performance with a whiff of ritual humiliation about it," he wrote.

“This is a new nadir for celebrity casting ... and the sheer absence of talent Crawford displays is a bit embarrassing for everyone.”

Shane Crawford's casting sparks outrage in musical theatre world

State lockdowns, travel restrictions and capacity limits all seriously damaged the arts industry during the peak of the pandemic response, which received little government support to remain in business at the time.

Jason Donovan plays the Pharaoh on the London production of the famed Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical comedy.

Samantha Andrew told The Age back in August that the production's choice of Crawford was a slap in the face for professional performers.

“It just sends such a disheartening message to performers who have dedicated their lives to this industry, battled through all the heartbreaking steps to even get into an audition room, and then you see these roles going to someone who played AFL once," she said.

“Hawthorn isn’t signing (Wicked and Legally Blonde: The Musical actor) Lucy Durack, it’s offensive to the industry in that it’s essentially saying, ‘Oh no, you don’t need the training to do this; anyone can do it.’”

Andrew went on to argue it was an example of how sporting interests are consistently prioritised above the arts.

“This just confirms everything we’ve long suspected about where our priorities lie in this country," she continued.

“It speaks really highly to how important sport is considered over the arts, and I think that’s an added layer of frustration.”

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