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Portage native’s acting career takes wing in Vegas

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Bat Out of Hell

Mitch Gray is seen in a promotional ad for "Bat Out of Hell." Gray has come far since his early days performing on the Portage High School stage in "Guys and Dolls."

From a three-sport student athlete in Columbia County to a leading man in Bat Out of Hell, Mitch Gray says his career has taken him to new heights.

The Portage graduate currently calls Las Vegas home, where he’s starring as Hoffman in Bat Out of Hell, as well as sharing the lead role of Strat in two out of eight shows per week.

The 1994 show, a loose retelling of Peter Pan, features music by Meatloaf and Jim Steinman, and will be live at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel from Sept. 27—March 31.

While he’s taking the stage in Sin City now, Gray still recalls where he got his start acting: The stage at Portage High School, for a production of Guys and Dolls his senior year. While he says he enjoyed his first taste of performing, it wasn’t something he’d planned on pursuing.

“I was like that was great, but I wasn’t trying to do it for a degree,” said Gray.

That changed, though, after he took on a theater minor at UW-La Crosse. Theater at that point remained an interest for Gray, something he “dabbled” in alongside his biology pre-optometry major. What started as dabbling, though, grew into a main interest.

“I had a realization in college when I was doing a production of the musical Chicago I was standing offstage and waiting to go on and the rush that I got in that moment and have had now many times since then was something that I have only ever had when I played sports,” he said.

“That kind of feeling of ‘wow this is really cool and unique and like nothing else I’ve ever felt before.’”

In the end, theater won, and he switched his major to focus on acting.

“I got to a point where I said ‘do I really want to do the whole eye doctor thing or do I want to try to do this acting thing?’” he said. “I haven’t turned back since.”

After graduation, he took on roles in different shows, moving out to New York where he continued performing. In what he calls a “whirlwind,” Gray moved out to Las Vegas within two weeks of accepting his roles in Bat Out of Hell.

“It was such a short time that I had to pack up my life in New York and get it together enough to come out here,” he said. His journey was made difficult by flight scheduling complications, though, and ultimately he left New York at 6 a.m. the morning of his first rehearsal in Las Vegas, making it in the nick of time.

“It’s been pretty nonstop since I found out I got the job,” he said.

Now, less than two weeks until opening night, Gray says the show is looking “in pretty good shape,” and he’s looking forward to taking the stage.

He hasn’t forgotten where he came from, though, and he encourages other small town kids with big dreams to chase them as he’s done.

“Go for it, follow the dream,” he said. “Be a good person, too. That feels kind of cliché to say, but people want to work with good people.”

Bat Out of Hell will run Tuesday-Sunday weekly with shows at 7 p.m. each day. There will be added shows at 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. At the moment, the show is set to run until the end of March, but Gray says there’s a chance it could be extended if ticket sales are high.

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