With an instantly recognizable, ceiling-rattling voice and boisterous presence, Amber Gray burst onto Broadway in 2016 in one of the most unorthodox musicals to move uptown in years: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. The 38-year old's fearless approach meshed perfectly with the boundless visions of composer Dave Malloy and director Rachel Chavkin in the immersive musical -- and now, she's reuniting with Chavkin and another imaginative composer (Anais Mitchell) in Hadestown. Since the show's inception, Gray has played Persephone in the musical adaptation of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, and now she's won her first Tony nomination (for featured actress in a musical) for the role -- all while juggling eight shows a week and caring for a new baby. In an odd turn of events, Gray is connected to another much-praised musical on Broadway now -- she portrayed Laurey in an earlier incarnation of Daniel Fish's exhilirating revival of Oklahoma! She spoke to Billboard about how "downtown" and "uptown" theater are finally meeting, and why she's still surprised to be in a big musical.
You have such a distinctive voice, and it's a big part of how you play Persephone. Did you always have confidence in it? Were you ever told, "This isn’t a traditional Broadway voice"?
When I got the audition for Oklahoma!, I kept calling back to be like, 'Are you sure they mean Laurey? I’m sure they mean basically... any of the other women.' I didn’t think I could sing those songs. Those Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals are in a key so you can sound like a trumpet without being amplified, which sort of homogenized the sound of musical theater for decades. Luckily, I was never specifically trained in musical theater and told I had to sound a certain way, so I missed that kind of abuse in a certain way. I also can’t read music, which is a pain sometimes but helpful in other moments when I’m learning because I don’t get scared of a note on the page. I’m not inimidated by a high or low note, I just try to figure out how to sing it. I have a little less fear. All of that is learned fear from conservatory training. Growing up, I went to church a lot with my parents, I sang a lot in choir, so I definitely grew up singing. And then in high school I was obsessed with Björk and Tori Amos, and they have incredible instruments, so I’d just try to sing along all the time.