The first time I saw Mitchell Wray perform in “The Velveteen Rabbit,” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre in 2014, I was struck by his strong stage presence and natural talent. Little did I know that I would eventually direct him in “Calder, The Musical,” a show I co-created with my collaborator Dustin Klein. Our original work was the number one best-selling 2016 IndyFringe Theatre Festival show. As it turns out, “Calder,” in which Mitchell played young Alexander “Sandy” Calder, was the last show the young actor appeared locally, prior to joinging the national touring company of the Broadway musical, “Finding Neverland.”
Now, fans of Mitchell who were wowed by his performances in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the IRT, “Mary Poppins” at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre and others, can see the 11-year-old phenom, as Jack (he will eventually alternate in the role of Peter) in “Finding Neverland,” when it plays at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, in Chicago, Nov. 22 – Dec. 4.
“Finding Neverland” is based on the 2004 Oscar winning film of the same title. The innovative musical follows the playwright J.M. Barrie who finds the inspiration he has been missing when he meets the beautiful widow Sylvia and her four rambunctious boys, Jack, George, Michael and Peter. Captivated by the boy’s delightful antics, Barrie imagines the world of Neverland and goes on to write the groundbreaking “Peter Pan” about an adventurous orphan boy who can fly.
This past week I had the pleasure of chatting by phone with Mitchell from his hotel room in Cleveland where he and the cast are performing at the Playhouse Square theater until November 20. It’s the fourth stop in a 15-city tour that ends in Boston in late August, 2017. The show’s next stop is Chicago.
Mitchell, traveling with his mom and manager Chauncie Wray, enthusiastically reports that the tour is “really fun and it’s really cool and really nice to have your dreams come true. It’s awesome going from hotel to hotel and going to awesome opening night parties.”He says that he has become very close to his fellow kid actors who play his brothers because they spend so much time together on and off stage. Noting that he and the other boys “all really get along” Mitchell says “We are a hundred per cent kids. We all love magic, playing with Rubik’s cubes, swimming at the hotels, and riding on the bus.” Mitchell is also excited to announce that he has learned how to play the ukulele from one of cast mates whose character plays one in the show. “I have tried almost every instrument. Piano is too hard, guitar is too hard but I picked up a ukulele and thought ‘Wow, this is easy.” he says.
When Mitchell was asked if doing the show has made him a better performer he says “My singing, especially, is going great. I am working with some of the most amazing singers in the world, like Christine Dwyer (who plays his character’s mother Sylvia). They help you with the best warmups and everything. All the adults in the show are really funny and really nice people. They are just so kind and caring. Also, though nobody’s messed up majorly so far, they help you avoid making mistakes.”
And how is Mitchell dealing with his new found celebrity? “People line up at the stage door. You don’t really get that in Indiana. These girls who line up who are so excited to meet me and other cast members. I always think to myself, ‘What? I am not that famous’ but I must admit, it is pretty cool.” he humbly states.
Though he is having the time of his life, Mitchell says he does miss his room at home, the family dog, Piper, and, of course, his twin sister Amelia with whom he talks by phone with, via FaceTime, every day. Then of course there is his dad, Corey Wray, about whom he says “I miss hanging out with him. He’s a cool dude.”
Mitchell hopes that his fans will make the three hour drive to Chicago to see him in the show. Explaining that the boys in the production regular ly rotate roles, he says, however, that he is definitely playing Jack in all the performances during the Chicago run. And if performing in the City Second isn’t enough, Mitchell is also thrilled about appearing with the other boys in the city’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which will be televised live, nationally, on WGN-TV, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. The boys will perform during the first half hour of the parade.
And what should people expect when they see the show? “Bring a box of tissues” he laughs before insisting that “They can expect to see one of the best shows ever. It is upbeat and entertaining and has every emotion. It is sad, wonderful, beautiful and just everything.” he gleefully exclaims.
For tickets and information about “Finding Neverland” visit www.broadwayinchicago.com or in person at the Cadillac Palace Theater ticket office located at 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, 60601.