When 12-year old Amelia Wray was cast as young Alison in the Phoenix Theatre regional premier of “Fun Home,” a buzz spread throughout Indy’s theatre community about her stunning audition. There was also a consensus that she was perfect for the role as small Alison in the multiple Tony Award® winning musical opening Friday on the Levia & Steve Russell Stage. The show runs through Oct. 22.
I was hardly surprised Amelia got the part. Not only had I seen her impressive debut at Indiana Repertory Theatre as Tiny Tim in “A Christmas Carol,” but it was reported that she stood out in Booth Tarkington Jr. Civic theatre productions, classes and camps.
I first met Amelia in person while working with her twin brother Mitchell. He played young Alexander “Sandy” Calder in the 2016 IndyFringe preview of “Calder, The Musical,” an original musical I directed and co-created with Dustin Klein, my Klein & Alvarez Productions producing partner. Later Mitchell went on to play Jack and eventually Peter in the national touring company of Broadway’s “Finding Neverland.” He currently resides in Los Angeles with his mom Chauncie as he pursues a career in film and television.
As far as Amelia—I was struck by her intelligence, poise and maturity beyond her years and still am. Thus, like many others, I was thoroughly gratified to learn that this special young talent with such an old soul had been cast in”Fun Home” with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori. A pathos-filled musical, it’s is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, a lesbian, who grew up in a funeral home operated by a distant father—a closeted gay man who met his end tragically.
Recently I sat down with Amelia, accompanied by her dad Corey, in the Frank & Katrina Basile Theatre to chat about “Fun Home,” her relationship with brother Mitchell, and her plans for the future
When did you first find out about “Fun Home?”
My brother Mitchell is good friends with the kids who are on the Broadway tour. They saw each other’s shows when he was doing “Finding Neverland.” He told me all about it so when I heard the Phoenix was doing the show here I decided to audition. I got the bug and knew I had to get back on stage again and thought “I just need to do it and let’s see what happens.” So, I auditioned for it and was called back. Finally, I got the part of Alison and am so excited to be in the the show.
How did you find out about the content of the show? Who explained it to you?
No one sat down and talked to me about it. I didn’t understand it before but now I do. I did some research online and like I said, Mitchell told me a lot about it too. It has a lot of adult content but the kids play a key role in it. In the show you see adult Alison looking down at small Alison with her dad during those times in her life. It is an important story and it needs to be told.
Are there any similarities between you and small Alison?
I think we are similar because small Alison is confident. She is also humble and I relate to that. I have confidence in myself. I try to be humble most of the time because that is very important.
Do you think you are instinctive like your character?
A little bit, yes.
Did you understand how to play the role?
Looking at the script when I first got it there were some parts I didn’t understand but now that we have rehearsed it I do understand it.
How did Suzanne Fleenor, your director, help you in the beginning of rehearsals?
In the beginning, we sat in a circle as a group and she asked each member of the cast what the show meant to them and we all shared. At that point, I didn’t really know what I was doing but I do now. Brent Marty helped me too.
You and Brent Marty have worked together before, haven’t you?
I have been doing theatre with the Booth Tarkington Jr. Civic Theatre with Brent since I was five years old and all the shows I was in have been with him. He sent my mom an email about “Fun Home” and in it he said, “I think Amelia should try out for this.” And I said, “Let’s give it a shot.”
Did Brent help you with your audition song which I heard was “Ring of Keys.”.
I have been singing that song for about two years now. That is my go to audition song. Brent has heard me sing that song a lot so when he found out he was going to be the show’s music director he thought of me for the role of small Alison. Each time I sing it I get better and better and he has helped me lot. It felt good when I walked out of the audition after singing the song.
You mentioned you had no performed in a while. Why not?
When Mitchell was on tour with “Finding Neverland,” that meant that mom, who is our manager, had to concentrate on that. It was hard to balance that crazy schedule with auditions for me so I decided to take a break. I had done a couple of shows earlier that year and it was my first year in junior high. I wasn’t sure about how much homework I would get so I decided to focus on school.
Where do you go to school?
I go to Creekside Middle School. I am in 7th grade.
Tell me about the cast of “Fun Home?”
I love the cast. I click with a lot of different people in shows but this cast is fun. Emily Holloway who plays my mom also played my mom in “A Christmas Carol” at IRT in 2015. I was Tiny Tim.
What was it like working with your director?
It has been such a pleasure. Suzanne has been such an amazing director. She is so nice and I relate well to her. When she sits down with me we have conversations about what the scenes are about. She really helps me understand things and it is a pleasure to work with her.
You are used to working with adults, aren’t you?
I love adults because they are different than kids. But I love working with kids too. Am so lucky to work with Aiden Shurr who plays my brother Christian. We have been buddies for a couple of years. We have also done shows together at the Civic Theatre. We connect well on stage and as friends.
Let’s talk about the number for “Come to The Fun Home” when you are in the coffin? How is that for you?
There is a hole to breathe through. They don’t close it all the way. It is not tightly secured. Going into it, Aiden came up to me and he was like “Today is the day we are going to do the casket.” And I was like “What?” They wanted to test me first so I went in there by myself and I was terrified. My fear was that it was going to lock. (Giggles). Now it’s like “Let’s do it. Let’s have a party.”
What do you see in your future as far as performing?
My ultimate dream is to be on Disney or Nickelodeon. I love theatre but I don’t know if Broadway is for me. But who knows, I may change my mind.
Did Mitchell’s work on stage in “Finding Neverland” inspire you?
I always knew I wanted to do TV but watching Mitchell and how close he became with those people made me rethink whether I want to do stage work or not. The tour was stressful and they were always packing and going from hotel to hotel so that wasn’t all that glamorous but the show was magical.
How many times did you see “Finding Neverland?”
I saw it over forty times. I didn’t go to every city on the tour, though.
What was your favorite city of those you visited?
Other than L.A., I really enjoyed Denver. It was a lot of fun. I spent my Christmas break there and it was very different.
What was it like seeing Mitchell in the “Finding Neverland?”
It as incredible. I am asked all the time. Not only by kids but also parents. “Are you jealous of your brother?” I get that question a lot and I say “No.” Because we are like one person split in half. We both get to do what we love and we love to watch each other. There is no jealousy. Even though it was very hard for me to be separated from my mom and my brother it was incredible on opening night. I just sat there with goosebumps all over me. I did not know what to expect but when I saw it I started balling.
They say that twins have extra sensory perception between each other. Is that true with you and your brother?
It is true. When we Facetime, each other he will talk about something that happened on a random day when he really missed me and I also thought that at the same time. Some days it was harder for me and some days it was harder for him. It made it hard for my mom too
Will Mitchell be present on opening night?
Yes, he is. It is going to very exciting. Most of the shows we have done were together. “Finding Neverland” was one of the shows I wasn’t in with him and this is one of the show he has never been in with me. Like I said before there is one of us but we are split in half. I want my brother to see that we can both be successful. He believes in me like I believe in him.
I understand there is a lot of interest in Mitchell in the film and TV industry in L.A. but also you as well. Will you go out there at some point?
You know, my mom is figuring it all out. I am open to it but I am playing it day by day. I would love to go out there on one of my breaks and do what I can do.
Are you with an agency?
I am with Abrams in L.A.
Wouldn’t be cool if you and Mitchell got cast as twins in some TV show or film?
Everyone asks me that. They say “What if you were to book series together?” and I think OMG.
What do you like about TV and film?
There is something about going in front of a camera or a live audience you are a different person and I love that I can change who I am but it is really cool to play another person than yourself. “Fun Home” has a lot to do with that because I am straight but here I am playing someone who is not. As far the difference between TV and film and theatre, I am good at memorization but sometimes I forget lines but in TV and film you always stop and do it again if you must.
What do you hope people will take away from seeing “Fun Home?
It’s a powerful story that needs to be told. I hope that people who maybe are having a tough time with their own dad or are having family issues that it is so important to love each other every single day. In this show when the dad kills himself it just shows anything can happen so you can’t take anything for granted when it comes to your family.
Tickets for “Fun Home” are on sale now. Tickets are $30.00 per person on Thursdays, Fridays (excluding opening night), and Sundays, $35.00 per person on opening night and 8 p.m. Saturdays, $27 per person on 5 p.m. Saturdays, and $25.00 for anyone 21 & under. For Thursday preview on September 21, all tickets are $25 each. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (317) 635-7529 or visiting phoenixtheatre.org. Curtain times for the production are: Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.