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Tamyra Gray talks about music and her role in the musical ‘If/Then’

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Tamyra Gray talks about music and her role in the musical ‘If/Then’
Tamyra Gray (Photo: Photo: Courtesy Broadway in Boston)

It’s been more than a decade since singer and songwriter Tamyra Gray made her first television appearance on FOX-TV’s “American Idol” in 2002.

Post-“Idol,” she released an album titled “The Dreamer,” debuted on Broadway in the Bollywood-themed musical “Bombay Dreams” in 2004 and wrote the songs “I Believe” and “You Thought Wrong” for fellow “Idol” alums Fantasia Barrino and Kelly Clarkson. She also guest-starred on the TV series “Boston Public” and appeared opposite Anne Hathaway in the indie film “Rachel Getting Married” in 2008.

Gray is currently starring in the national tour of the musical “If/Then” playing at the Boston Opera House now through July 17. She stars as Kate, an elementary school teacher who befriends Elizabeth (played by Broadway actress Jackie Burns), a city planner who moves back to New York to restart her life post-divorce, only to discover that the best laid plans are often subject to the whims of chance and fate.

The multi-talented Gray spoke to the Banner about her role in the musical, being on “American Idol,” and how discovering Prince helped her growing up.

On the web

Broadway In Boston presents “If/Then” now through July 17 at the Boston Opera House located at 539 Washington Street in Boston. To purchase tickets, call Ticketmaster at 1-800-982-2787 or order online at www.BroadwayInBoston.com.

Tell me about your character Kate and how she relates to Liz?

Tamyra Gray: Liz meets Kate when she moves back to New York after divorcing her husband of 11 years. Kate is the kind of person who kind of takes life by the reins and lets go. She convinces Liz that just because her marriage didn’t work out that she shouldn’t give up on love and that there’s someone for everybody out there, as long as you’re willing to be open. She kind of helps Liz through this journey of allowing life to happen to you. She’s kind of Liz’s love guru in a sense. She has to find someone. She’s not going to let her give up.

Was it a dream of yours to sing and act professionally when you were growing up?

TG: It was always a dream to sing. I didn’t quite understand what the acting part meant but I discovered that that was something that I was blessed to be able to do naturally because I loved to internalize songs. When I’m singing them — whether it’s for a musical or just a performance in general — I always internalize the lyrics as if it’s happening to me right at this moment. These are my thoughts, this is how I feel, and this is my escape. I didn’t discover my love of acting until after I would say doing “Boston Public,” after “American Idol.” I remember when I had a meeting with Mr. David E. Kelley, I asked him, “You’ve never seen me act. Why are we having this meeting?” Not because I was doubtful, but I was curious. I’m a very curious person. He said, “From your performances I can see that you can act.” It’s been a blessing to have stumbled upon this talent, this gift that I wasn’t aware of as a kid.

And so what inspires you to keep going? The industry that you’re in can be really challenging and difficult. Where do you find your inspiration?

TG: I love it. When I was younger I looked at the industry, and how tough and how demanding and all that stuff, and what it began to do was take away my actual joy and love of what it is that I’m doing. It’s not about the industry. It’s about the song; it’s about the message; it’s about the healing. It’s about helping others to live in this other reality that doesn’t exist in their day-to-day lives like that. You never know what you’re giving to another person when you are on stage. You never know what that person is looking for. You could be the answer to a prayer that they’ve been praying about just in that performance. You give a piece of your heart and soul every single time you’re singing because it comes from within. I think that that’s what keeps me going, is that this is my soul. This is a part of my soul. I sing all the time whether it’s lyrics or a script or whatever in front of me. I make up songs all day long to where my kids are like, “Oh, my God. Please stop.” This is how I keep going. It’s what I love to do.

Stepping into this role of Kate, how do you go about making it your own since it wasn’t a role you originated?

TG: Kate lives inside of me. It’s very funny because my stepmother came to see the show in Durham a couple of weeks ago and she came outside and she ran to me and she was cracking up laughing and she was like, “You’re not acting. That’s just you on stage.” It took a lot of courage, I have to say, because Kate is such a part of my personality that only my closest friends who are with me on a day-to-day basis see that crazy, goofy, silly side of me, because I was scared to show it. This is just how I am. But when I finally said “Okay, I’m going to give this a shot. I’m going to try and put forth more of myself into this role and add the little silly things that I do on a daily basis and risk looking stupid and be okay with that.” And, so that’s what I did. I took the script. I did my research on just a few things and I worked with it every single day. I still work with it every day. She’s just such a fun character. She does not make apologies for herself and that’s something that I could learn for myself — not to apologize for who I am.

This past April was the series finale of “American Idol.” What was one of your fondest memories of being on the show?

TG: One of my fondest memories of being on the show? I’m going to start with being part of the first season and getting to be a part of the final episode of it. It was just a great, great blessing. One of my fondest memories would be writing Fantasia’s single, the winning single, and being able to give back in that sense.

I noticed on your Twitter page that you mentioned that Prince was the reason you discovered music. Can you elaborate on that?

TG: The first time I saw him, I was in love. I liked everything about him. I was like, “I want to be him when I grow up.” I appreciated someone who went for it. I was curious about his sexuality. Let’s just be honest, a man with butt cheeks cut out of his pants, I’d never seen that before. Anybody that can do that is amazing. And, then when I listened to his lyrics and the poetry in his lyrics and the fact that he played every single instrument and he produced it and the music just poured from him. He was a vessel for music. And, music was my escape as a kid. There was a lot of abuse of alcohol. Music was where I turned to, is what I turned to when I needed to escape from my home life, and most of the time it was Prince that I listened to. I had all of his songs. I had a purple guitar. I wanted to take it all the way there. I was learning how to play the piano. I wanted to do and understand what was flowing through him.

What do you hope that audiences take away from seeing the musical?

TG: I hope that audiences take away the fact that they have done everything right in their life, and there’s no amount of mistakes for anything that could be perceived as a failure that would be true. Everything is a lesson. Everything is a step towards the next thing that you are trying to do for yourself and it’s all on the path. And that’s what this show, I feel, lets you know. There’s a song at the end that’s called “Am I Always Starting Over” every brand new morning? And the truth is “Yes, you are always starting over every morning,” but guess what? Something happened yesterday that will bring you into today, that will change the direction of how the day flows, if you’re open to your life.

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