BWW Interview: Ryan McCartan Talks SCOTLAND, PA, His New EP, and the Latest R&H Goes Pop!; Plus Watch the Premiere!
Ryan McCartan knows his way around stage, screen, and recording studio, and now he's pulling a thread from all three starring in the latest video from the R&H Goes Pop! series!
McCartan took a moment out of his artistically packed day to chat with us about the video, his current project Scotland, PA, and even his latest EP, Seventh Avenue.
What made you want to get involved in the R&H Goes Pop! series?
I've always felt very strongly that introducing some of the more classic elements of the artistic sphere to younger audiences or audiences who may not be as familiar with those aforementioned classic pieces is crucially important just to the artistic masses in general. As we advance through our artistry we need to constantly be reminded of where we're coming from, otherwise we're going to get lost on the way to where we're going.
I heard about this series, they reached out and wanted to work with me, and I was so excited to jump on board. I thought I was a good fit for it especially because with things like Heathers and Disney Channel's Liv and Maddie, I have a fanbase of younger people who, interestingly enough, maybe don't even know who Rodgers & Hammerstein were or what they did or any of their music. I felt my audience would be a great fit for something like this to introduce a younger generation to some of these expertly crafted songs.
What was the filming process like?
I think simplicity was really important, driving a singular narrative, not being too flashy. We wanted to let the music stand out and speak for itself but to put it in parentheses around a larger narrative without being too distracting. I know that it was important to our director and the R&H folks who were producing it to have it be sort of contained.
I think the location ended up giving way to our story. We found the hotel room and decided that we would keep it simple, one location. Then it was about how can we tell a story about love lost in just one setting? We landed on this narrative about a young man who was out on the town about to propose to someone very special to him and they were supposed to return to this hotel room to celebrate the proposal, but it went wrong and he shows up to his hotel room alone, ruminating on what was nearly his as is the theme of the song. Getting so close to that destination of love and all of your fantasies realized just to have it torn away, I think the video, again very simply but very pointedly, really lends itself so well to the narrative of the song.
What do you think makes Rodgers & Hammerstein so timeless and so easy to adapt in a modern fashion?
I think what makes it specific to me is what makes it specific to anyone. With 'This Nearly Was Mine' we have Emile de Bec in the Pacific theater during WWII in love with a nurse who has these racially tinged sentiments, and she runs away from him because she doesn't like the color of the skin of his former wife and his children. Here he is singing this beautiful song about love lost and it's such a specific circumstance, but the raw emotion in the lyrics, the maybe even rawer emotion in the music, is so transcendent that it doesn't matter how specific his scenario is. You hear these words and listen to this music and you are immediately transported to examples of love lost in your life that have nothing to do with the Pacific theater and WWII. That's what musical theatre is supposed to do when it's written perfectly. It's written exactly the way it needs to be written. Rodgers & Hammerstein are one of the easiest examples of who consistently did it right. It doesn't actually matter the context in which the song was originally set, it transports you to your own context and it's from there that your emotional response is derived.
Watch Ryan McCartan star in the latest from R&H Goes Pop!, performing 'This Nearly Was Mine':
Among your other current projects is the world premiere of Scotland PA, what has that been like for you?
It's been really hard. It's been amazing. Getting to work with people like Adam Gwon, Lonny Price, Josh Rhodes, I constantly have to be pinching myself because I'm in the same body as that 14 year-old musical theatre geek who never thought I would be lucky enough to work in New York City let alone with this caliber of talent in the room. It's really exciting and very creatively invigorating.
The process is hard. It's hard to mount a brand new piece, an original work. It's hard to sell yourself to an audience that has no idea what you are yet. We're in previews right now, so we rehearse for five hours in the morning and afternoon potentially completely reworking certain numbers or certain themes, maybe getting handed a packet of twenty pages that are brand new, all of which are expected to go into the show that night. All of us are simultaneously so creatively invigorated and so exhausted beyond words. But that's the gig, we all knew that signing up for it, and it's really exciting because we know that at the end of this preview process there's a chance that the light at the end of the tunnel is that we've gotten this right and that people will respond to it and that's a really exciting possibility for all of us.
I also love that I get to talk about this process with R&H Goes Pop! and Scotland, PA in the same vein because they're sort of the same thing. Scotland, PA is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, but we set it in a fictional 1975 where the character of Macbeth is the first person to decide it might be a good idea for a restaurant to be a drive-through. It's totally zany and completely twisted but it is the same theme, motif, plot summary as Macbeth, and it's the same sort of thing of taking something classic and repurposing it for an audience that might not know about it in the first place. It answers that same question of this is how we know where we're going if we can also know where we're coming from.
You also just released a new EP, Seventh Avenue, what were the inspirations and the process behind that?
A long time ago I had this idea to create bodies of work that reflected not just time periods in my life, but settings. I grew up in a town called Excelsior in Minnesota and I've always had a dream of making an album called Excelsior about living there. This album is called Seventh Avenue, and it's four songs that I wrote and compiled that are me tipping my hat to lessons learned and events that transpired while I lived on Seventh Avenue in New York City making my Broadway debut last year in Wicked. It's about what that setting, what that time in my life, what those feelings were, the things that happened to me professionally, occupationally, behind the scenes, personally.
Music to me is almost like a public diary, and it's almost like therapy to process a period of my life, put it to music, and then send it out to the world. No one knows exactly what I'm writing about, but my hope is that it can be transcendent enough to transport them to something they've been through that might be akin to something I've gone through whether it's an amazing feeling or something a little more melancholy or what have you.
I recently in the past few years I decided I wanted to take matters into my own hands so I've learned how to produce music on my own and I have a home studio in LA where I live and to sort of do all of this myself has been a massive labor of love, a huge learning curve, very frustrating, and extremely rewarding all at the same time. While the music is reflective of the diary entry personally, it's also interesting to hear my music evolve technically. I released an album last year called The Opposite and that was the first body of work I had ever made on my own. I'm really proud of that work, but it's definitely pretty novice. To hear this and hear the production get a bit tighter and the writing get a bit better is really exciting to me, to be able to chart my progress not just as a human but as an artist.