Age & Hometown: 32; Henrietta, OK
Current Role: A passionate star turn as Christine’s faithful beau Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera.
Shakespeare to the Rescue: Growing up in an “idyllic, Mayberry small town” 45 minutes south of Tulsa, Hays had to create his own fun. “I played baseball on a makeshift diamond in the middle of a cow pasture,” he remembers. After a shoulder injury put baseball on the back burner, he reluctantly tried out for a high school production of Much Ado About Nothing on the recommendation of his drama teacher. When he got the part of Leonato, he was terrified. “I stutter, and I was scared to death—I actually have to speak onstage? But my teacher pulled me aside and said, ‘We are going to fix this.’” Performing gave Hays a new confidence, and his stutter dramatically improved. “It might sound corny, but Shakespeare completely changed my life,” he says.
Coast to Coast: After earning his degree in musical theater from Oklahoma City University, Hays and his buddies took a road trip to the Big Apple. “I don’t know why we drove; it was miserable,” he says with a laugh. “What a stupid idea.” But the actor fell in love with the city and became an official resident when he nabbed an ensemble role in Les Miserables, later playing Enjolras on the 25th anniversary tour. He even got to sing “One Day More” on the Oscars with the film’s cast. “There were no egos. We were all there because we loved and believed in the show,” Hays says. “That’s all the way from the little people in the back, like me, to Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. It was an amazing experience.”
All I Ask Of You: Hays describes his whirlwind debut as Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera as an “out-of-body experience.” After two weeks of rehearsal, the actor faced 18 friends and family members on his very first night. “They couldn’t wait and give me a month to figure it out,” he jokes. He has been welcomed into the fold by co-stars Hugh Panaro and Mary Michael Patterson, and he’s impressed by the cast’s ability to stay positive and energized in Broadway's longest running hit. “Everyone is eager to do the show every night, and it’s so inspiring to see that,” he says. Four months later, Hays admits he sometimes still has to pinch himself. “Having had spouts of unemployment for up to 18 months, I wake up and think, ‘It’s OK, I have a job tonight,’” he says. “It’s truly a dream come true.”