A year ago, SCAPA graduate Colton Ryan was on stage at the Lexington Opera House for The Lexington Theatre Company’s Concert with the Stars, which pairs aspiring college actors with established Broadway performers.
Ryan was one of the aspiring performers.
This year, as the third annual concert is set for Sunday afternoon, Ryan is in New York, in one of the hottest shows on Broadway.
The actor, who just a few years ago was playing Jean Valjean in the School for Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School’s production of “Les Miserables,” is understudying the title role and two other parts in “Dear Evan Hansen.”
The critically acclaimed musical — Broadway.com named it the third best show on Broadway in 2016 and said it will “undoubtedly be a frontrunner at next year’s Tony Awards” — is helmed by “Rent” director Michael Greif with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were the lyricists for the current screen hit “La La Land.”
“It’s definitely been a little overwhelming,” Ryan says of moving to New York and starting his first job. “Moving to the city is kind of an event on its own and then getting your first really big job is kind of an event. To do both at the same time is kind of daunting.
“Going to the theater every day has been, as you can imagine, the craziest experience, still. It still blows my mind when I see our show is going to be on the ‘Today’ show — that was Tuesday — and to hear about the massive success of the show, it doesn’t happen very often. Also, to see a great piece of art that’s also so commercially successful and being a part of that, it’s kind of surreal.”
“Evan Hansen” is about a painfully socially awkward high school senior who becomes a cause celebre when he is mistaken for the best friend of a friendless boy who commits suicide. Ryan was tapped to understudy the lead, played in a critically acclaimed performance by Ben Platt, while he was still a student at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio. Ryan says he is technically still a student and will graduate on time as his role is being considered an internship by the school.
“It’s a loose definition,” Ryan says. “Technically, the credits I would have had, which I only had a couple left, they will all be counted under this as an off-campus experience.”
Ryan notes that being part of the show has been a huge education, and working with Platt “is like having a master class every day.” He has yet to go on as Evan Hansen, but because Platt has time off to take soon, it’s only a matter of time before he goes on as Evan or one of the other parts he’s covering.
It’s quite a turn of events for a performer who, less than four years ago, questioned whether theater was really a career for him. Like many a senior actor, he had put himself through brutal college theater auditions, only to be turned down by all but one school, Baldwin Wallace. He wasn’t sure what message to take from that, and whether to look at other options. Then, he was cast as Jean Valjean.
The experience he had and the feedback he got from playing the iconic “Les Miz” hero told him acting was what he needed to do. When he got the “Evan Hansen” part, the first person Ryan told was SCAPA theater teacher Paul Thomas.
“I would be nowhere without SCAPA,” Ryan says. “Somehow, they do this miraculous task of letting kids fly but keeping them on the ground at the same time. I’ll never forget where I came from, because of them.
“If you want to walk out of there at a different level, with a different pedigree, you can, because they have all the tools to give that to you.”
Being asked to be in last year’s Concert with the Stars “was an honor,” Ryan says, and the best part was being able to perform for a hometown audience after being away at college for several years.
Lexington Theatre Company artistic director Lyndy Franklin Smith says of watching Ryan perform: “It was one of those moments you have this gut feeling, this kid is really going places.”
And if he comes back someday, it may be as one of the stars.
If you go
Concert with the Stars
What: The Lexington Theatre Company’s annual event, featuring stars of Broadway and film — Laura Bell Bundy, Krysta Rodriguez, Leslie Kritzer and Matthew Scott — performing with collegiate musical theater students.
When: 3 p.m. Jan. 8
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.
‘Dear Evan Hansen’
Colton Ryan currently has no scheduled dates to go on in the show, but will definitely be stepping in as the production continues. It is at the Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St., New York on an open-ended run. Visit Dearevanhansen.com or call 212-239-6200 for show times, tickets and more information.