Stage & Dance

After TV and Broadway, Lexington actor returns home to entertain

Colton Ryan is a graduate of the School for the Creative and Performing Arts.
Colton Ryan is a graduate of the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Photo provided

Colton Ryan wanted to get Tony and Emmy award-winning actor Mandy Patinkin to sing.

Yes, plenty of us have heard him sing, particularly the music of Stephen Sondheim. But Ryan, a Lexington native, was sharing a car with Patinkin to the set of the critically acclaimed Showtime series “Homeland,” and he wanted to hear the man sing one-on-one.

One day, the “Jetsons” theme song came up, and Ryan was getting his wish, listening to Patinkin sing one of the last songs he expected to hear.

“I just sat back and took it in,” the graduate of the School for the Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School said.

That’s the kind of year Ryan had in 2017, playing a key role in the Tony Award-winner for best musical, making his TV debut on “Law & Order: SVU” and filming guest roles on the acclaimed series “Homeland” and “The Americans.”

But the first weekend of 2018, Lexington gets Ryan back as he is one of the featured performers in the Lexington Theatre Company’s annual “Concert with the Stars” production. The show, now in its fourth edition, features four Broadway stars performing songs integral to their careers with student performers from regional college theater programs.

As always, the show also features the announcement of the Lexington Theatre Company’s summer production, and for the first time, the company is planning two: July 12 to 15 and Aug. 2 to 5. Both shows will be announced Saturday night.

Two years ago, Ryan was one of the college hopefuls in the show, performing before getting back to classes at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio. On Saturday night, he will become the first hopeful in the series to return as a star, fresh off his tenure understudying the title role in the Broadway production of “Dear Evan Hansen.”

“As small of a victory as the whole year has been, it’s been so wonderful and so sweet,” Ryan said. “And being able to celebrate with everybody at home is just going to mean so much to me.”

The show will return Ryan to a stage, the Lexington Opera House, where he had some of his key formative experiences in shows such as SCAPA’s production of “Les Miserables.”

But last year, in the early days of “Evan Hansen,” Ryan reflected on the humbling experience of his senior year, ending up at Baldwin Wallace in part because it was the only college theater program that accepted him. But it turned out to be a serendipitous match: He loved the school, and it set the stage for him to join the cast of “Evan Hansen.”

His role was to support Ben Platt in his Tony Award-winning performance, but being part of “Evan Hansen” helped open the door to other career-affirming opportunities, including a pivotal role in an episode of the “SVU” that seemed particularly timely because just a few weeks after it aired, fellow Kentuckian Ashley Judd helped kick open the door of the #MeToo movement with her allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein in The New York Times.

The episode, “No Good Reason,” concerned a high school girl who was raped by a fellow student or students at a party. Ryan’s character, one of her friends, slowly comes to acknowledge that he was the rapist.

Ryan says he had no qualms playing the bad guy, and he thinks the way he and the director, Martha Mitchell, approached the part was really important in light of what has unfolded in the last few months regarding sexual harassment and assault.

“I was worried about this kid coming across as malicious, or that he is a monster, truly,” Ryan said. To him, it was important to portray the student as someone sympathetic who ended up doing a monstrous thing.

“We have to watch a kid face the truth, as ugly as it can be,” Ryan said. “Not all bad guys are just bad guys. … We’re all examining that maybe the benchmark for being a good guy was too low.”

If you missed Ryan’s TV debut, there are more chances to come, as he has guest shots on “The Americans” and “Homeland” coming up. He also is working on a new musical in development, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.”

Ryan finished his work on “Evan Hansen” in November. He says early in the show’s run, he entertained the idea that maybe he could succeed Platt in the lead, but came to understand that understudies usually don’t succeed the star on Broadway, and he says in the end that freed him to pursue some other opportunities such as the TV shows and even enjoy Christmas at home and a holiday visit with his girlfriend in Vermont, where she’s in a show.

And it allows him the time to come back and perform for the hometown audience.

He will, of course, sing some “Evan Hansen” selections in the concert, he said. But he also intends to make a it “a love letter to Lexington and my influences, and people who have meant so much to me, like Steve Kazee, coming from Kentucky and Morehead,” he said, referring to the Ashland native and Morehead State University graduate who won a Tony for best actor in a musical for “Once” in 2012, and who will star in the stage adaptation of “Pretty Woman” this year.

“I remember being in high school when ‘Once’ happened, and how much that story rang true with me — my father was an immigrant from Ireland — and to know he was telling that story and the music meant so much to me just blew my mind,” Ryan says. “That was a huge catalyst for me wanting to do it, and think that it was a possibility.

“If there was a possibility for my life to give that sort of thing back to kids in Lexington, … that would be the most fulfilling thing for me.”

Rich Copley: 859-231-3217, @LexGoKY

If you go

‘Concert with the Stars’

What: Lexington Theatre Company showcase featuring Broadway performers Colton Ryan, Tyler Hanes, Jill Paice and Gabrielle Ruiz with regional college theater performers.

When: 8 p.m. Jan 6

Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.

Tickets: $35 to $60

Call: 859-233-3535

Online: Lexingtontheatrecompany.org

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