BWW Interviews: Debut of the Month - BIG FISH's Ryan Andes
Ryan Andes makes his Broadway debut as 'Karl', the gentle but misunderstood giant in the new Broadway musical Big Fish. Featuring direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a new book by screenwriter John August, the musical brings to life a world of fairy tales and fantasy emanating from the creative mind of traveling salesman Edward Bloom (two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz) The production opens officially on October 6 at the Neil Simon Theatre.
Andes recently played 'Stewpot' at the Muny's production of South Pacific. His recent TV credits include a guest spot on CBS's 'Person of Interest". He has appeared on screen in The Widowers, and has an impressive list of NYC stage credits as well as opera, musical theatre and voiceover work. In a true twist of fate, Ryan's grandfather, Keith Andes, starred opposite Lucille Ball in Cy Coleman's Wildcat at the Alvin Theatre, now known as the Neil Simon, the very stage where Andes makes his Broadway debut.
The actor spoke exclusively to BWW about dancing on stilts, family traditions and why he counts himself "one of the luckiest people" he knows.
The audience response to the show the other evening was phenomenal. That must be a wonderful feeling for you.
It's amazing. There's no way to describe it properly. I've never been in a show that's had such an outpouring of love and response. And I get comments after the show about how much people enjoyed it and how much it has touched them.
And you certainly have a challenging role. The creative team has come up with such a unique way of transforming you into Karl the Giant, but how difficult is it, not only to walk but to dance under those conditions?
(Laughing) Yeah, it's been a process! First of all, I've never walked on stilts before in my life. When I auditioned in fact, I remember Stro [Big Fish director and choreographer Susan Stroman] asked me if I had a fear of heights because she had in mind for me to walk on stilts.
So at the workshop, back in Spring 2012, they brought in a stilt expert, Mark Mindek, and he spent an hour working with me on these stilts. They're high tech , hydrolics-driven stilts and they're very forgiving. After an hour with Mark, I realized I had a bit of a knack for this thing and he told me I was a quick study. And once I got comfortable walking around, we started with some very basic dance steps. As time whent on I got more and more comfortable and Stro, you know once she sees you can do something sort of well, she tries to see how far she can take it. So it became a little more difficult but a lot more fun. I think I am now to the point where she can throw anything at me - the jitterbug, doing cartwheels, and I think I could probably pull it off!
How tall are you in real life?
I'm actually 6'4"
Ahh, so you really had height in your favor already.
Yes, and apparently that's a good thing when you're working on stilts. You have a higher center of gravity and that gives you an advantage. So yeah, I was already a giant, adding a few more feet was no big deal!
And of course you already had that beautiful operatic bass voice.
Yes, I did opera for years. My voice I think was a great selling point.
I understand that your grandfather starred in Cy Coleman's 'Wildcat' at the very same theater that you're making your Broadway debut in.
Yes, that's right. Isn't that amazing? What a surreal thing. It's absolutely extraordinary. I have no idea how to really put that one into words. And I didn't even know that until Brad Oscar, who plays Amos in the show, told me back in February. All this time I was completely unaware of it. And then when we got in the theater and I realized I was walking on the same stage, inhabiting the same halls that Grandpa once inhabited over fifty years ago with Lucille Ball, there's nothing like that. I've been kind of living in a dream-like state. The serendipity of it all is truly remarkable. It makes me feel that I have a much deeper connection to the place and to this art form that I really have a passion for.