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BWW Interview: Ryan McCartan Talks Dancing Through His Broadway Debut and the Everlasting Magic of WICKED!

BWW Interview: Ryan McCartan Talks Dancing Through His Broadway Debut and the Everlasting Magic of WICKED!Ryan McCartan is living the dream making his Broadway debut in the land of Oz as Fiyero in mega-hit Wicked. McCartan is no stranger to the stage, a 2011 Jimmy Award Winner, he also originated the role of J.D. in the Off-Broadway premiere of Heathers: The Musical.

McCartan hopped in the hot air balloon out of Oz to chat with BroadwayWorld about his tornado of an experience debuting on Broadway and what it's like to be part of Wicked as it celebrates its landmark 15th anniversary!

What was your first exposure to Wicked? When did you first see it or hear about it?

It was around 15 years ago. My sister, I want to say it was a Christmas present, came across the album and the book at the same time. So we we were listening to the album and she was reading the book and she was like 'Oh it's all the stuff before Dorothy got to Oz, you won't believe all this stuff, the truth about these witches'" I was ten and just wanted to play video games, I had no interest in reading, but one night I heard the songs, and I was like whoa this is really cool. And of course this was before my voice changed, so I was interested in singing the Glinda parts more than the Fiyero parts, but I was just obsessed with the music.

A few years later, my grandmother scored us all tickets to go see the touring company in Minneapolis. I obviously just remember being so enthralled by the sort of magnificence and the magic of the show. Then my voice changed and I discovered Fiyero and I remember distinctly having the thought of 'man, this would be a great role for me to play on Broadway someday, but by the time I'm old enough to play this role, I'm sure it won't be on Broadway anymore'. I didn't anticipate that this would be this behemoth of a show that doesn't seem like it's going to go anywhere anytime soon.

What's it like having that be the show you make your Broadway debut in, to have such a huge cultural icon of a musical to be part of your own personal history?

BWW Interview: Ryan McCartan Talks Dancing Through His Broadway Debut and the Everlasting Magic of WICKED!I don't even know if I've fully processed the magnitude of it all. I'm about a month into my contract now and I still have moments where I'll be onstage and I'll have to reign myself in. Just the other day I was talking to Amanda Jane Cooper who plays Glinda right after we got offstage from doing a scene together and she was in the magnificent Bubble Dress, the big blue dress that opens and closes the show, and I remember looking across the stage at her and being like 'Oh my god it's Glinda! And I'm not watching this show, I'm onstage with Glinda.' I still have those moments of oh my god this is happening, and I don't really anticipate those feelings going anywhere. It's a really hard thing to process. Not only have I always been a fan of this show, but being on Broadway is basically the longest dream I can remember having. To synthesize the two, it's really something. I don't think I'll ever get over that.

How did you come to get the job? What was the process of getting cast?

They were looking for a Fiyero. Ashley Parker Angel's contract was up and they started their search. I haven't necessarily been on Wicked's list that I know of, but I'm a huge fan of Telsey and they're friends of mine and Telsey covers Wicked so when they were looking for a Fiyero, they reached out to my agents and asked if it was something I was interested in. I said absolutely. It was for an immediate replacement and I was working on another project in Los Angeles at the time and I couldn't be pulled away at that exact moment. I said I guess the timing's not going to work out, but thanks anyway.

About three weeks to a month later, we got another call saying they found an interim Fiyero to play it until they find their next guy and asked me to put myself on tape and I did. They came back saying they really liked it, how soon could I do this? I was still working on this project and needed another month which wasn't going to work, but then Curt Hansen, the interim Fiyero, agreed to extend. They called back and said maybe this will work. Sure enough, the project I was working on in LA ended early August and a week later, my whole life was packed up and I was on a plane to come over to New York to start rehearsals.

I'm so glad it worked out that way, I'm so glad it was Curt who was the Fiyero that trained me in because I think the world of him, I think he's magnificent. Truly all of the stars aligning at the same time, every single piece of that puzzle had to be exactly in place for it to work out and it did. I'm sort of speechless when I think about the grand scheme that all coming together.

BWW Interview: Ryan McCartan Talks Dancing Through His Broadway Debut and the Everlasting Magic of WICKED!
Ryan McCartan in Heathers: The Musical;
Photo Credit: Chad Batka

Tell us more about the process of getting into the role, training and getting ready to take over. What kind of things did that entail?

I've never done this before, I've never inserted myself into an already moving, well-oiled machine. I've either started from the beginning and done the rehearsal process or something of the like. There was definitely a learning curve because while the show was going on two floors underneath me, I was up on the fourth floor of the Gershwin in the rehearsal studio with the dance captain and a stage manager and they were just talking me through what my track would look like and saying 'pretend this rehearsal room is a stage with 2,000 people in the audience and pretend there are 30 people onstage with you. Here's roughly where they'll be and make sure you don't step here because there's a hole in the ground and make sure you don't step here because there's a statue and make sure you don't step here because there's a dancer who'll kick you in the face. Good luck!'

That was the process for most of it. I had a three week rehearsal process and most of it was just sketching it out for me in the rehearsal room. One thing I'll say on the crew of dance captains and stage managers, they really know their stuff. Not only were they telling me exactly what my track was but then whenever they would say make sure you watch out because there's gonna be a dancer here, there's gonna be a person here, they would do all of those roles at the same time so if I turned to my right and there's someone that I'm gonna run into they'd jump into that place and then I'd turn to my left and someone I'm gonna run into there and they'd jump into that place. These two dance captains were sprinting around me the entire rehearsal process literally being 25 people. It was just fascinating. For whatever talent I have, it's just one tenth of the talent that these guys have and they're just so quick and to have all those tracks in their head at the same time, I don't even know how they do it.

I got a little bit of time onstage, but again I was alone. It was me, some dance captains and the stage manager. I had one rehearsal where the actual cast was there with up onstage, but not with the elements. I had most of the tech and some of the sound, most of the automation, I was in costume, but no one else was in costume or makeup and we only had a pianist and a drummer in the pit. All of the magic, seeing Jessica [Vosk] as a green person, all of that happened on my first night in front of 2,000 paying audience members.

BWW Interview: Ryan McCartan Talks Dancing Through His Broadway Debut and the Everlasting Magic of WICKED!

That's amazing. Were you nervous?

No, actually! About 20 minutes before the half hour call, I went out onstage with the dance captains just to go over 'Dancing Through Life,' which is what I was the most nervous about the whole time. While we were rehearsing that number, I was wearing this new pair of boots that they just made specially for me, but the arches of the boots didn't get rubberized and I didn't know that. I was out on a ladder and tried to hook my heel into it and it slipped and I fell off the ladder and rolled over my ankle. Less than an hour before I'm supposed to make my Broadway debut.

I'm the sort of person where if I wake up with a cough, I'm on Google figuring out how that might mean I'm dying. So I'm on my ankle and I'm like oh my god it's broken I can't go on! The dance captain was just like calm down, let's not jump to any conclusions. I stretched out it a little bit, we ran through the number again and I could do it, it hurt, but I could it and I was like ok no way I'm missing my debut, so we're gonna get me some ice and we're gonna get me a little brace for my ankle and I'm just gonna go for it.

Because of that happening, I was so focused on my ankle that I didn't really have time to psych myself out about how nervous I was. The show ended and I was like oh I did it! I never had the bandwidth to get nervous in the first place and when I could intellectualize I thought ok I did the show once and it all went fine, so it'll probably be ok tomorrow. It ended up being a very weird god send that I tripped and rolled over my ankle like that. And it's a good story. Considering it didn't affect my performance and that it could've been so much worse but it wasn't. It's just a great story that I'll always remember on my debut that night.

Moving back to Wicked as the behemoth it is, what is the fan response like night after night? What's it like experiencing that onstage?

I love this question is because you'd think after 15 years have gone by that enough people would be familiar with the story and you'd be getting mostly people who know it or want to see it again. But even 15 years later there'll be moments where one of the big surprises in the plot will happen and we'll hear audible gasps from the audience. There's this love triangle between Fiyero, Elphaba and Glinda and on any given night you can tell they're on Glinda's side or they're on Elphaba's side in terms of who Fiyero should kind of end up with. There will be moments where I'll say I'm going with Elphaba and the audience will applaud and there will be moments where I'll say I'm going with Elphaba and they'll all gasp and they're like no! It's wild that even 15 years later, there are people in these seats that are so engrossed in the story, are not expecting what happens and have different opinions about what is happening in the story night after night. You'd think coming into something that's been so established, you'd know what to expect. I've been so entertained by the fact that the audience really has different senses of where they think or where they want the story to go night after night, even after all this time.

BWW Interview: Ryan McCartan Talks Dancing Through His Broadway Debut and the Everlasting Magic of WICKED!Now the big question: what do you think makes Wicked so long lasting?

The three things that come to my head immediately: the music is just unbelievable. I think it's the perfect synthesis between all of the formulaic things that a good musical theatre soundtrack needs, and this epic pop that Stephen Schwartz just has lock, stock, and barrel every time he writes. I've gone to so many musicals in my life where I really enjoy myself and I leave the theater thinking it's real good, but I try to hum a song and can't remember, it doesn't stick with me. It's impossible to listen to Wicked and not get 'Popular' or 'Defying Gravity' or 'As Long As You're Mine' stuck in your head. It's impossible because the songs are just so good. It's a musical, if you have a good soundtrack that's half the battle.

I also think there's a big piece story-wise and the fact that we get Oz for free. You don't even have to set up half the jokes in the musical because The Wizard of Oz has done it for you. The whole world, all of the jokes about Dorothy, who the Wizard is, they already know it. As far as the story is concerned, that's there for them before the curtain even goes up, which I think is really helpful.

Finally, I honestly do feel this way, it's the double female lead. It's the fact that Elphaba and Glinda, that is the story. I love Fiyero, he's an important part of the story too and Dillamond and The Wizard and all of them, but the story is the relationship between these two women who have their disagreements, but ultimately completely support each other. They could not be more different from one another, but the reason they love each other so much is because Glinda is so authentically who Glinda is and Elphaba is so authentically who Elphaba is. Neither of those women ever apologize for who they are, and they find each other in sort of the strangest circumstances and stick with each other even when they feel the other has wronged them, even when they feel the other is wrong about some other external factor. It is a super-charged, female-led story that is authentically different than what we usually see. The girls aren't at each others throats, yes there's a love triangle, but ultimately it doesn't affect their friendship. We see the friendship mature and change depending on the circumstances. I think that isn't something we see enough of and considering that we saw it in 2003 and that people still want to see it 15 years later, and I think will still want to see it for the next 10, 15 years. There's something about those two women, those two parts, that I think really attracts people and always has.

We're sending congratulotions to Ryan McCartan on his Broadway debut and a heartfelt happy 15th anniversary to Wicked!

Wicked production photo credit: Joan Marcus

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