BWW Interview: Dancer Ryan Steele on His Dual Roles in the Tour of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
You may know him as Broadway's bespectacled "Newsie" who whipped off multiple ballet turns atop a sheet of newspaper. Maybe you spotted him as a lost boy in NBC's Peter Pan Live!, or caught his sensitive portrayal of Baby John in the revival of West Side Story. But Ryan Steele has graduated from adolescent roles and is ready to take on leading man status this fall.
Ryan is currently in rehearsals for the national tour of An American In Paris, which will premiere in Boston on October 25th. Garen Scribner and Sara Esty, who performed the roles on Broadway, will play the leading roles of Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin. Ryan holds the coveted position of the Jerry alternate and performs the role twice a week as well as dancing in the ensemble. For the past six weeks he's been learning the role along with Leigh-Ann Esty who plays the Lise alternate. Yes, she's Sara's identical twin sister.
As he prepares for both roles, Ryan talked about how rehearsals are going so far. Check out my interview with him below!
Congratulations on being part of the national tour of An American In Paris. Is this your first time doing a tour?
Thank you so much. Yes, this is my first time going out a national tour and I'm very excited. I've done contracts away from New York before but they were only for a couple of months. This show is so special and perfect that it feels like the right one to go on the road with.
What was your initial reaction when you found out you'd be the Jerry Mulligan alternate and playing it twice a week?
I was over the moon. It took a bit of time to kick in but the first day of rehearsal made it all the more special. It was a serious "pinch me" moment.
I can just imagine. So how are rehearsals are going?
It's been pretty incredible. The first two weeks were spent just learning the Jerry track. It was before the rest of the ensemble and principals came in. It was just four of us: the two alternates and the two understudies. Leigh-Anne and I learned all the big pas de duex sections and got to do some scene work. When the rest of the cast joined us I was jumping back and forth rehearsing both Jerry and my ensemble track.
Learning a leading role and an ensemble position in such a dance heavy show must be challenging. How do you manage both?
I try to keep an open mind and to watch at all times. I always have my peripheral vision engaged while I'm learning my ensemble stuff because Garen will be doing something that I haven't necessarily learned yet. Garen doesn't need to learn the show as he's done the Broadway production for so long. He sort of does his thing and I learn a lot by just watching him.
On the other hand, sometimes when Garen isn't there and I'm doing Jerry, I have to watch Colby Lindeman, who is one of our wonderful swings. He's the first cover for my ensemble track. We'll go into a corner and he'll tell me my numbers and steps and then I jump back into the ensemble.
Sounds like a herculean task. Maybe they should call you Ryan "Man of" Steele!
It is a lot, but it's exciting. I'm fortunate that the team is so wonderful and I trust them completely. I know that by the time I go on I'll feel thoroughly prepared. I'm already having a great time because it's such a fantastic role for a dancer. Getting to do this choreography is a treat and I feel super lucky.
It's also comforting to know that the show has already worked on Broadway. It was successful at the Tony Awards and the box office. Knowing that we are recreating the exact Broadway musical is a great feeling because it's already recognized as a good product.
Tell me about your partner Leigh-Ann.
She's amazing. We had an instant connection because we're both such huge fans of the show. When we'd learn an iconic An American In Paris step we would just geek out together. She's such a beautiful dancer and a natural actress and singer. We have a nice support system between us, as we're both out of our comfort zones in different ways. It's pretty cool that she's the alternate for her twin sister, Sara. I guess if I go on with either one of them it'll feel very familiar.
I bet it's exciting to be working with director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.
Oh my gosh, he's a genius. He's the type of choreographer who makes me want to be a better dancer. We had a one-on one-rehearsal session with me doing Jerry a couple of weeks ago that was really inspiring. He's open and understanding and respects that Garen and I are different dancers and won't play it exactly the same way.
Do you have a favorite "Jerry" moment in the show?
I really like doing the scene before the song "Liza." It's one of the first big moments that Jerry has with Lise and it has a cute cat and mouse feel to it. I also love the fifteen-minute "An American In Paris" ballet finale that is stunning in and of itself. There's a section in the middle where just Jerry and Lise dance and that sequence is one of the most beautiful pieces of choreography I've ever seen on stage. The fact that I get the opportunity to perform it is unreal.
How about your early dance training? What made you start taking classes?
When I was seven my parents enrolled me in a local dance studio called Dance Dynamics Performing Arts Center. My brother and sister were already taking at the time and were getting pretty serious about it so I wanted to be like them. I kept training and when I was ten I realized I wanted to be doing this for a really long time. I wanted to make dancing my job.
So the ballet bug bit you?
Actually I didn't start taking ballet until I was around eleven. My teacher, Dori Matkowski, told me that if I wanted to be successful as a dancer I would need to take ballet. So I jumped right in but it didn't really click with me right away. I really started to develop a love for it a few years later as I had some awesome ballet teachers. I also continued to study other kinds of dance because I didn't want to pigeonhole myself. It was important for me to be as well rounded as possible.
Exactly. I think that's the way to do it. Any advice you'd like to give aspiring young dancers?
Trust your gut. If you really love it then keep training and work as hard as you can.
Thank you, Ryan. It's been a pleasure and I wish you all the best on the road.
The national tour of An American In Paris will premiere in Boston at the Citi Wang Theatre October 25-November 6, following a preview period at Proctor's in Schenectady, NY.
The full tour route can be found on www.AnAmericanInParisBroadway.com.