Raising up the stars

Broadway actress Amra-Faye Wright, New York theatre star William Bailey return to Kansas City

Elizabeth Payton, Staff Writer

Senior Lana Moeror takes a stand next to Broadway actress Amra-Faye Wright at Starlight Theatre on Sept 15. Photo by Derek Walsh.

Two Winnetonka graduates returned to Kansas City to help the school’s cast of the musical, Chicago, after making a name for themselves in the world of theatre.

Broadway actress and Winnetonka alumna Amra-Faye Wright, who graduated in the 1970s, performed the Broadway version of Chicago at the Starlight Theatre on Sept. 15, where she gave tips to the school’s cast.

The cast watched the musical performed on Broadway to learn more about the characters and how the show should be performed. Afterwards, Wright emphasized understanding the deeper meaning behind each character.

“The characters may appear to be one-dimensional but they are not; they are very rich and rich in irony, and that’s super important in this show,” Wright said. “Everything is tongue-and-cheek; everything has another meaning or could have another meaning, and it’s those things that make the play deeper and richer.”

Wright is known for portraying Velma Kelly, a vaudevillian who is accused of murder, and has been performing Chicago for over 17 years.

“The reason we are able to keep coming back to this show is because you keep finding new things in this script,” Wright said. “There is so much to explore and to find. What happens to me every year is evident in what I do on stage, so I keep reading and try to find new things that are interesting to the character.”

New York City theatre star models a dance routine for the cast of Chicago. Photo by Erica Burnett.

After the cast got a feel for the musical, New York City theatre star William Bailey visited Winnetonka to choreograph the upcoming performance. He worked with the cast to teach them proper techniques and hoped to become a role model for them.

“When I was in school I never had that specific person to look up to,” Bailey said. “[I teach them] how to pay attention, how to take notes and how to not doubt themselves. I am inspiring them to be better than they were the day before.”

Bailey graduated from Winnetonka in 2007 and had been part of the theatre department during his high school years. He described theatre as something that kept him “alive” when he was struggling during his teenage years, which is why some of the cast felt as though they could connect with him so well.

“Bailey had an incredibly positive impact on the cast; he really created a connection with everyone,” student director Parker Robbins said. “He commanded such respect from everyone while motivating them to be their very best. By the time he left I don’t think there was a single person who wasn’t touched by his passion.”

Among the dance routines and memorization, Bailey wanted to give the cast life-long advice. He advocated that everyone, not just theatre students, should dabble in some form of art.

“Try your best to be a well-rounded human being and culture yourself through the arts,” Bailey said. “Life is not just all about sports and politics. You’d be surprised what you might find out. You just have to keep pushing and don’t doubt yourself.”

By witnessing Wright perform and working with Bailey to perfect their routines, the cast is hopeful they will give their most professional performance yet.

“I think it [these experiences] had a wonderful impact on their morale, self-esteem and discipline,” student director Ashley Smith said. “[On the day he left], everyone was more confident in their dance ability and in themselves as a whole.”

Chicago will be performed on Nov. 15-17 at Winnetonka.