A Tribute to Kevin Gray - 'His Time To Shine'
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by Pati Buehler
"One man in his time plays many parts" ~ William Shakespeare must have known Kevin. A young Kevin Gray first came to the attention of New York audiences for his portrayal of Kayama in the 1985 revival of Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures and created the role of Valentin opposite John Rubinstein in the world premiere of the musical Kiss of the Spider Woman.
His theater experience and credits are as big as the Big Apple itself. He was the youngest actor to play the title role in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and on the U.S. National Tour, receiving The Carbonelle Award for his performance as The Phantom. Before that, he played Raoul in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. Kevin Gray recently starred as Scar in the National Tour of Disney's The Lion King. Before that, Mr. Gray toured the United Kingdom as The King in The King and I, reprising his role from the Broadway revival of Rogers and Hammerstein's classic, in which he became only the third actor in history to play the role on Broadway. Gray starred as Pontius Pilate in the Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar and starred in Harold Prince's production of Showboat, as Gaylord Ravenal. He toured as the star of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Music of the Night, and appeared as The Engineer in the Los Angeles and Toronto productions of Miss Saigon, receiving the Dora Mavor Moore (Canada's Tony Award) and Los Angeles Dramalogue awards for his performances. He appears on The Complete Miss Saigon, recorded in London.
There are many talented actors that do much credit to their stage roles, but only a handful that possess the ability to transform themselves completely into any character as diversely as Kevin Gray. He was also able to do so seemingly effortlessly, though we know the amount of energy and talent this requires. His Phantom was devastatingly heartbreaking. As I sat next to an older couple holding hands I noticed tears quietly flowing down the cheeks of the couple during the final scenes. In the manipulative role of the Engineer in Miss Saigon Kevin fully captured the scheming side of this despicable character and all but made the crowd root for him. Chatting with him after his performance in Miss Saigon at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn NJ I commented; "No one does a sleazier Engineer as well as you Kevin!" much to his amusement.
His portrayal of the King in The King and I was commanding. "Filling the shoes of Yul Brynner is no easy task" as Kevin admitted. He did so with great dexterity while yielding to his inner conflict to learn a measure of meekness and compassion. His rendition of "It's a Puzzlement" was refreshing and candid. Who knew he could dance? Certainly this came as a surprise to Kevin as well! At the final curtain call on closing night of the Broadway production the crowd of adoring children in the cast climbed to the top of his head, nearly making him topple to the stage. This was the magnetism of Kevin's persona; a man who never had children yet they were impulsively drawn to him.
Everyone who has had the pleasure of knowing Kevin has an unforgettable story. Mine is especially endearing to me as the Phantom who touched the lives my family by offering his friendship so many years ago. Please ask me sometime. There are many stories of inspiration, respect and friendship for this gentle, funny, smart, generous man, who was never too busy to help whomever he could and whenever he was able.
But his greatest joy of all was the love of his life, his soul mate, Dodie. The two met on stage of course, in Phantom of the Opera where Dodie was in the ballet company and was the understudy for the role of Meg Giry. Kevin recalled; "I remember when Dodie was called in to play Christine for one night in Philly. I cried the entire performance!" The two were joined at the hip and had a deep connection. When they needed to spend time apart the multi talented Dodie kept herself in creative mode with writing, arranging music and directing. But seeing them together one fully understood the bond of love and conviction and of course, their mutual affection for their canine and feline "children." They shared each other's passion for performing and supported each other's work." I feel most like myself when I work with Dodie", shared Kevin. Together they have written two full length musicals "Dracula - The Covenant" and "A Christmas Carol."
In 2006 the two collaborated on Kevin's one and only long over due solo album entitled "My Time To Shine" at the prompting of Dodie and much to the delight of Kevin's loyal fans and friends.
"Kevin Gray was an extraordinary human being. Audiences knew him as a powerful and versatile performer. Those of us who knew him personally found a warm, caring individual. Family and friends meant everything to Kevin. He maintained his relationships like no one I've ever known.Kevin could never say "no" to anybody. He committed to everything he did with 150% of himself. Whether performing a role, teaching or being a mensch, have it his all. He was always willing to listen and focused on you in conversation. He was always interested in what you had to say and he was the funniest, smartest guy in the room. He forever changed my life, and I will miss him always". ~ Craig Schulman
"Working and playing with Kevin was always full of surprise. Kevin never did anything halfway, sometimes creating "angst", but most often a sense of head turning wonderment, hilarity, or both. "Luke warm" could not be used to describe him. It was not in his vocabulary or work ethic, in fact, he was just the opposite -- always full of passion and boundless energy. His gift touched many and his presence always left a lasting impact." ~ Keith Buterbaugh
In 2010, Kevin revealed another wonderful gift; the extraordinary ability to teach. He took his richly creative talent and stage experience to Rollins College in Florida and in 2011 Kevin had begun as an associate professor of theatre at The Hartt School at the University of Hartford Conn. He brought a sense of inspiration to his students that allowed them to soar. His philosophy seemed to reflect that of Indian guru Sai Baba. "Life is a song - sing it. Life is a game - play it. Life is a challenge - meet it. Life is a dream - realize it. Life is a sacrifice - offer it. Life is love - enjoy it."
Kevin seemed to live by this set of laws sharing his life, his enormous gifts as an actor, mentor and friend and his zeal for the arts with everyone he knew. Yes, it would be fitting to "dim the lights on the chandelier" in his memory, but my heart tells me that he would rather see the fireworks in the sky in celebration of all the people that crossed his path, that were enriched by his energy and the joy that he so eagerly shared with so many.
He truly celebrated his life by enhancing the lives of others. His legacy will live on and be remembered every time we hear "Music of the Night" or "The American Dream". Now it is his time to shine in the hearts of those who had the pleasure of knowing Kevin Gray.