Wilson’s Ray Shell in demand

Playing Foley in ‘Office and a Gentleman’

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


Ray Shell is right in the middle of what could become another huge stage hit.

Shell, whose home is in Wilson, plays the role of the tough gunnery sergeant Emil Foley in “An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical,” which made its world premiere in April at Curve in Leicester, England. Foley was played by Louis Gosset Jr. in the 1982 hit movie.

The show, directed by Nikolai Foster, includes the songs “Up Where We Belong,” “Alone,” “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “You’re the Voice” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

Shell draws comparisons to the early days of “Starlight Express.” He created the role of Rusty in the hit 1980s musical.

“The show is going wonderfully,” Shell said in early April. “We are in previews, and we’ve had standing ovations at every performance.

“It feels great to be in another hit show.”

Shell, who has spent little time here in the past year. 

In fact, he’s spent much of the past year going back and forth between the United States and the United Kingdom.

He said it’s all part of a working actor’s life.

“I’ve been traveling since I took my first plane ride to audition for Emerson College in Boston,” he said. “I do enjoy traveling, and now I accept it as normal part of my life. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be continuing my craft,” he added.

This last year, one thing has led to the other for Shell.

“When people find out that I’m in one country or another, projects are offered to me which is very welcome,” he said. “I really thought that I was going to be in Wilson developing my own theater company, but every project gives me useful experience so my Wilson TAIP Lab Theater will have to be put on hold for a bit longer.”

Shell, who was born in Wilson County, returned here in 2015 and was impressed with the local theatrical talent. He made connections in the local theater scene and started TAIP Lab Scratch Nights, featuring local entertainers. He also presented “Zoo Story” at Big Harold’s Diner in downtown Wilson.

Shell became involved with Theatre at Barton and its director Adam Twiss, who is now executive director for the Wilson cast album of Shell’s musical “Starboy.” “Starboy” was one of the featured shows in Barton’s New Works Project in 2017.

Shell said Rufus Norris, artistic director of the UK’s National Theatre, is looking at “Starboy” as a possible project to develop later. 

“Starboy” started in the UK, so we’ll see,” he said. “There are plans for a full concert version of ‘Starboy’ later this year at Barton, which will be another happening.”

Although Wilson is his base, he’s not sure when he will be back to his loft. 

“It’s a comforting feeling knowing I have a home that’s mine waiting for me.”

“Officer and a Gentleman” will be touring until September. Shell said the tour was almost sold out by mid-April. By the end of the summer, producers will decide if the project will continue touring and if and when it will move to a West End theater, he said.

Shell has other projects going right now as well. He has signed a film contract for the film version of his first novel, “Iced,” and hopes to start production later this year. His current novel, “Feedin’ Miranda,” is in development with the UK company Sugar Films, he said.

“So I’m still multi-tasking,” he said last month, “writing ‘Miranda’ in the mornings before I start ‘Officer’ rehearsals.”

His show “Grayhound” is also in production in the UK.