Colton Ryan had been on the “Concert with the Stars” stage before. Two years ago, he appeared as one of The Lexington Theatre Company’s Broadway hopefuls, putting in a hometown performance before returning to college in Ohio.
Saturday night, the Lexington native was back as one of the event’s Broadway stars, singing songs that had inspired him as a young actor at the School for Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School and ones he had recently performed in the Broadway hit, “Dear Evan Hansen.” During his senior year at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, Ryan was cast as the understudy for the title role in the show, which won six Tony Awards in June including best musical, and he has since made his TV debut on NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” and has appearances in the upcoming seasons of Showtime’s “Homeland” and FX’s “The Americans.”
“All I ever wanted to do is make this town proud,” Ryan said between tributes to Kentucky-born Broadway stars who had inspired him — Ashland’s Steve Kazee and Frankfort’s Will Chase — and “Evan Hansen’s” “For Forever.” Lexington Theatre Company artistic director Lyndy Franklin Smith said she saw a future Broadway star in Ryan when he was in the show two years ago and responded that he had more than made Lexington proud, after his performance.
For his final number, “You Will Be Found” from “Evan Hansen,” Ryan was joined by this year’s hopefuls, several of whom seemed like they could potentially make the leap to the other side of the cast in a few years.
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In addition to showcasing Ryan and three other Broadway talents, the concert served as the season announcement for the The Lexington Theatre Company, which will present two summer productions, up from one in its first three seasons. The Tates Creek High School Marching Band joined the concert’s company to announce “The Music Man,” which will play July 12 to 15 at the Lexington Opera House, and the summer will conclude with “A Chorus Line” Aug. 2 to 5 at the Opera House. Like the concert and previous productions, the shows will feature a mix of established Broadway talent, student and local performers.
“Music Man” will be directed by University of Michigan music theatre professor Mark Madama and feature new choreography by Louisville native Mara Greer, known for her work at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse and other notable regional theaters. “A Chorus Line” will be directed by Smith, who was the dance captain of the 2006 Broadway revival of the show. Several of the stars in the concert had connections with “Chorus Line,” including Ryan, who was in the 2013 production by Lexington’s SummerFest; Tyler Hanes, who was in the revival with Smith; and Gabrielle Ruiz, who was in the first national tour of the revival.
Joining them was Jill Paice, also a Baldwin Wallace alum, who delivered a diverse set from a brassy opener of her four-song set, “Shimmy Like They Do in Paree/I Want to Go to Hollywood” and then turned to emotional numbers from “Nine” and the “Mountain Duet” from the underperformed “Chess,” which also featured University of Kentucky graduate and Morton Middle School choir director Joseph Wrightson. One of the nice things about these concerts is they have not been hit parades, but rather lovingly curated setlists that frequently highlight lesser-known songs.
Paice and the other performers were supported with sensitive playing by the concert’s instrumental ensemble, led by Brock Terry.
Hanes, fresh from starring in the Broadway revival of “Cats” and being named 2017 sexiest man on Broadway, opened the evening with a set including numbers from his breakthrough show, “Fosse,” and classics from Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern.
The Concert with the Stars has traditionally featured established performers talking about their careers and performing defining songs. Ruiz was the most talkative this year, guiding the audience through her “Chorus Line” breakthrough, being cast in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first hit “In the Heights” — and expressing doubts to him about a historical show he was writing that would become “Hamilton” — and her work on the CW’s musical comedy series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
For her “In the Heights” number, “When You’re Home,” Ruiz was joined by Lexington singer Darien Sanders, a Concert with the Stars regular who once again more than held his own with national talent. At the inaugural CWTS in 2015, he dazzled the audience teaming up with Broadway and TV star Jonathan Groff on the title song from “Hair.” His Saturday night turn with Ruiz followed his powerful rendition of “I’m Here” from “The Color Purple,” which was the evening’s first showstopper.
At one interlude in the show, Smith and her husband, Lexington Theatre Company producing director Jeromy Smith, reeled off several other company veterans who were having success on larger stages. With performances like UK graduate student Jessica Bayne’s “In My Dreams,” Kurtis Brown’s “What Do I Need with Love,” Wrightson’s “She Loves Me,” Megan Valle’s “All Falls Down” and Bryn Purvis’ “Big Time,” it seemed certain that list will grow.
Rich Copley: @copiousnotes