Colton Ryan’s birthday, June 10, often falls on the same day as the Tony Awards. This year, Broadway’s biggest night missed Ryan’s big day by a day, but he’s not about to complain about the belated present from the American Theatre Wing.
Ryan, 22, is in the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen,” understudying the title role in the hit that picked up six Tony Awards Sunday — June 11 — including best musical and best actor in a musical for Ben Platt, the man for whom Ryan is always ready to stand in.
The huge night prompted the 2013 graduate of the School for Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School to reflect on Tonys past and now, saying, “It was all an idea, watching these performers that I idolize and respect. It was a dream I was watching it with a total filter like, ‘How glamorous’ and ‘What a life.’ A year later, I know exactly the sacrifice and dedication and work that goes into making it to that night. The emerald glasses are off, but the same magic is there.
“The magical idea of the Tony and the glamorous life is not there, which means now I see the magic that these people pull off every day to make something like that happen, like the Tonys on Sunday night. To be a part of that, a small part, is deeply humbling.”
Ryan was not in Radio City Music Hall for the Tonys ceremony, noting a limited number of tickets are available for people from each nominated show. He joined the rest of the “Dear Evan Hansen” cast and crew watching the ceremony in the show’s home at New York’s Music Box Theatre. The full cast, crew and production team reunited shortly after the ceremony for a celebration that went well into Monday morning.
We will note here, Ryan graduated from Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, in May and was earning internship credit for working on the show, directed by “Rent” director Michael Greif, for the past semester.
So, knowing I had just done what will now be one of the most historic parts written for Broadway the same day and to watch him win that night — I couldn’t believe my life, my luck.
Over the Tonys weekend, Ryan’s appreciation for the show and Platt deepened as he actually had his first extended run stepping into the leading role for five performances as Platt took some time off to prepare for the Tony Awards performance. Ryan had gone on for only two other performances, prior to last weekend.
“I already had the deepest respect for Ben as a human and definitely as an artist,” Ryan said. “Now, I kinda know the turmoil it takes to do it every day, and the physical and emotional stress and turmoil it puts on your body. Seeing him go through four years of developing this really hard thing to do, it was unbelievable.
“I knew it from the first time I saw it that he had to win. What he has done is he has changed theater. He has upped the bar, like many previous best actor, best actress winners have done, but he has taken it to a whole new level. The depth of his performance, the moment he walks on stage, you can tell the dedication and work he put into it, but the part that’s unbelievable is how effortlessly he manifests it.
“So, knowing I had just done what will now be one of the most historic parts written for Broadway the same day and to watch him win that night — I couldn’t believe my life, my luck.”
The show is about a socially awkward high school boy who becomes a cause celebre when he is mistaken for the best friend of a friendless boy who commits suicide. Ryan says he particularly appreciates that Tony voters were open to the serious topics that the show addresses. And Ryan is certainly not reluctant to tackle serious topics on stage, as he has been working on a new show, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” that’s in development. The musical, based on a 2010 movie and novel by Ned Vezzini, is about a clinically depressed teenager who checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward. The show was written by Alex Brightman, who originated the role of Dewey Finn in the Broadway production of “School of Rock” and composer Drew Gasparini.
“He drives this show,” Brightman said of Ryan in a Playbill interview. “It comes from his soul, and it’s incredible to watch.”
Ryan says his is still attached to “Funny Story” and he looks forward to the next developments in the project.
The Tonys always raise the question of what’s next for the artists involved in shows. For now, Ryan is contracted to “Evan Hansen” through November, and tickets are on sale through, coincidentally, June 10, 2018. Ryan is enjoying his serendipitous Broadway debut, particularly all the well-wishes from Lexington and Baldwin Wallace — he offered a blanket apology for not being able to get back to everyone who has sent him congratulations and encouragement.
He says he wants to continue “creating this show,” and expects now that the intensity of the Tony Awards season has passed he will have some occasions to play Evan Hansen for longer stretches. Being part of the process has whetted his appetite to follow in the footsteps of the actor he’s been supporting for more than half a year and be involved with a project from the beginning.
“I, of course, have just been a small blip on the creation of this musical,” Ryan says. “So I really can’t wait until I get to do something like Ben, where you get to watch something go from inception to full production to, who knows beyond.”