"I was definitely an expressive and neurotic child. The thing that seemed to calm me down was the year my Mom bought me a little puppet house and puppet stage," Crane says. "When I was five or six, I was crazy about this. I would put on shows, sending my brother out to make an announcement at family gatherings that a show was about to start."
Interestingly enough, Crane has come full circle with puppets, though on a slightly larger scale. The actor stars as the main heavy Scar in The Lion King, which will be performed over the next month at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
Playing a villain is nothing new for Crane, whose credits range from Broadway to regional theater to CSI and Ugly Betty. "They say to never judge your character. If you do, you short change the emotional life of the character. Villains are highly motivated, whether they need to exact revenge or cause pain, they live it all the way. For an actor, it's a great thing to live. You don't get the same emotional journey, because the villain's arc ends in comeuppance.
"When I was auditioning, Julie Taymor [the show's director] was there, and she was very interested in seeing a villain who was not stock. He was trying to be a trusted advisor to Simba, and was seen as the bad-tempered younger brother to the king. The effect is so much more satisfying when the audience realizes the character the same time as the actor," Crane says.
The hit musical, which began its performing life 15 years ago at the Orpheum, takes and expands the original Disney film. It has long been renowned for its use of puppetry, costumes, and dance to bring the animal characters and the African location to life. That mixing of disciplines -- along with a hard-working cast -- makes for a singular thrill for the performers, Crane says.
"Acting is not an individual spot. People who look at it that way are missing the point. Great things can be done through collaboration," Crane says. "That happens in a literal sense here. It takes five people to get me ready for the show. What's really fascinating about the show is that you have all these multidisciplinary artists who are coming from places other than musical theater. The quality of it is just fantastic, and there is no such thing as a star dressing room. Everyone is pulling their weight 100 percent."
The actor also has ties to the Twin Cities. His parents met while living here, and he spent part of his summers growing up visiting the area. "I grew up in Los Angeles, and there isn't much of a difference between summer and winter. They don't explode the way summers in Minnesota do," he says. "We spent our time outside, going to Twins games, and rollerskating. My cousins were huge into that."
Having a month in the Twin Cities will give Crane a chance to explore the area as an adult. "I'm just anxious to see the town in winter," he says.
IF YOU GO
The Lion King
The Orpheum Theatre 910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Through February 12
For information, call 1.800.982.2787 or visit online