By Wayne Harada
Kevin Gray, the Broadway actor who last performed in Hawaii as Scar in Disney’s “The Lion King,” died Feb. 11 in Connecticut, where he lived. He was 55.
He apparently had been shoveling snow from last weekend’s East Coast blizzard and suffered a heart attack afterwards.
Gray was an associate professor of theater at The Hartt School at the University of Hartford, but is widely known for other iconic roles he played on stage: Raoul, then the Phantom, in “The Phantom of the Opera,” The Engineer in “Miss Saigon,” the King in “The King and I.” Scar in “The Lion King,” which he toured in a national company that played Blaisdell Concert Hall for a record 12 weeks, was the only big box attraction he starred in locally.
Gray was to co-star with Hawaii native Joy Abbott, in a Temple University benefit, “Reflections on Broadway,” Feb. 16 at the Indian Creek Country Club in Miami Beach, sharing the mike and spotlight with Abbott, who is a graduate of Temple and who resides in Miami during the winter months.
“I got an e-mail from Dodie (Pettit), Kevin’s wife, that he suddenly died after suffering a massive heart attack after shoveling snow at their home,” said Abbott, the widow of the legendary Broadway producer-director-playwright, George Abbott. Through her work on the Broadway scene, she met Gray and numerous luminaries of the theater and its related crafts.
I first saw and heard Gray when he portrayed The Engineer in the Toronto launch of “Miss Saigon,” then met him when he performed as the malevolent Scar in “The Lion King” and two “The Three Phantoms” visits here with two stage peers who donned the mask over the years: Craig Schulman and Cris Groenandaal.
Gray was that rare and special Broadway trouper, who could do and sing just about anything and everything, with charm and charisma on and off the stage. He could perform those large-scale roles in those mega-musicals because he had the stamina and breadth to find and tap the soul of his characters in his own soul.
He enjoyed sharing his craft with students, so he joined Hartt in 2011 to teach music and theater classes for the next generation of actors.
Theater was his life; he had appeared in more than 8,500 Broadway and touring performances, acting in or directing more than 150 productions in a colorful and successful career that took him everywhere. He met his wife when he was doing Phantom and she was the Ballerina in the production.
Gray had yearned to do the Scar part after seeing the musical for the first time, mostly because he understood the challenge and complexity of portraying a role that required both his own face and a mask. As he said in a 2007 interview: “Boy, if I ever got that role, they’d have to get me out with a shoehorn. It’s amazing...it’s the duplicity that’s striking; the animals are puppets, yet we show the mechanism of how we move as actors. So as an audience member, you see the actor and the puppet. No one is completely concealed; the trick for the actor is to seam up the actions of the puppets within your own self. You disappear, then reappear, at times.”
As a member of “The Three Phantoms,” he was part of a brotherhood of actors who sang and played the masked mystery figure who knew each other well and befriended the eminent director of the original production, Hal Prince.
Ted Keegan, one of ex-Phantoms, thus will fill in for Gray at the Temple University event, according to Joy Abbott, who helped establish the George and Joy Abbott Center for Musical Theatre at Boyer College on campus.