I got hold of Ryan Steele, best known for playing Specs in Disney’s Newsies, and currently working in Matilda, for an interview!! The star known for his dancing (and his smile…come on folks, you all think it), and told me about how he got his first role, as well as what his role in Matilda now requires!
You’ve always been a dancer, and I know you trained specifically in that medium. Did you ever find yourself maybe less prepared vocally/acting-wise than your castmates? How did training in classic dance forms like ballet lead you to dancing in musical theater… has the difference in styles been a challenge for you? How?
In some ways my training has put me at a disadvantage, but it’s also given me an edge. Because my acting and singing experience was sub par, I was forced to learn quickly.
With that said, my ballet training is proving to be a necessity. My first three shows on Broadway really utilized that training.
Can you tell us about any hardships you may have had as a kid– were you ever bullied, felt out of place? What about the performing arts appealed to you?
I was bullied a bit in school. Nothing too terrible. Fortunately there was a large male dancer community at my dance studio and in my area. So, for the most part, I never felt out of place.
Where did you go to college/train?
I trained at a local dance studio in Michigan. It’s called The Dance Dynamics Performing Arts Center. I was cast in West Side Story right after high school graduation, so there was no college for me. I joke that I got my BFA at the Palace Theatre.
Can you explain some of your Broadway audition processes? Did you audition for West Side Story and get cast right away, or was it a grueling process (or both)?
I was in New York City taking classes, and a mentor of mine called and told me about the open call for West Side Story. It was the day I was scheduled to fly back home to Michigan, so I made a pit stop at Chelsea Studios on my way to the airport. It was a mad house. SO many dancers, and I only knew one or two faces. I went in about four or five times over two months. We danced, sang, and read from the show at every callback. It was pretty tough (and scary), but obviously so worth it.
You have a pretty huge following since Newsies. What is this fame like for you?
Haha. I wouldn’t call it fame. Although I’m VERY appreciative of my followers, I’m also aware that my “fame” is within a 10 block radius.
I will say that I’m very grateful for Newsies, because it put dance/dancers in a pretty awesome light. Dance on Broadway is often overlooked and under appreciated. EVERYONE in a cast works equally as hard, and it’s fun to see the people “in the background” get recognition as well.
What has been your favorite number to perform in on Broadway? Why?
That’s tough. Can I give favorite number in each show?
West Side Story– “Dance At The Gym”
Billy Elliot– “Grandma’s Song”
Newsies– “The Newsie Ballet” aka Curtain Call
Matilda– “When I Grow Up”
In Matilda, there are certain moments in the show when you play a parent and times where you play an older kid…how do you transition mentally from character to character? Which role do you prefer?
The aesthetic of the show is extremely bold and bright. Every character follows suit. To transition from Big Kid to Parent to Salsa competitor it’s just as easy as keeping an open mind and having fun. The children in the show set the bar high in that respect. They’re really just having fun and pretending. And with co-workers like that, it’s hard not to really commit.
We’re all obsessed with the staging of “When I Grow Up.” Is swinging over the audience as terrifying/challenging as it looks?
In the beginning it was challenging to master the mechanics (while singing and swinging in sync). Its really just like riding a bike. Once you get comfortable with it, it’s the most fun you’ll ever have on stage!
There are a bunch of great shows on Broadway at the moment, plays and musicals, from this season and past seasons. What’s your dream show or role?
The first show I saw was Movin’ Out, so it has a special place in my heart. I would love to do something along the lines of that. Dance is so telling, and when you have the right choreographer, dancers and music you can really portray something beautiful.
What has been your best memory in your past four years on Broadway?
Easy! Last year at the Tony awards when Chris Gattelli won his Tony for Choreography. All of the Newsies were backstage getting ready to perform. We were all crowded around a giant TV in the holding room. When Chris’s name was announced, we just erupted. It’s hard to think of a happier time in my life.
And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring actors/singers/dancers?
Be yourself! Don’t try to copy anyone else. Really get to know yourself as a performer and “product.” You are your business and you need to have a clear idea of what you bring to the table. Also, don’t be afraid to look silly. 🙂
Quick! Don’t think!
Favorite Song at the moment?
Ah! I’m loving Mumford and Son’s cover of “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel!
Guilty pleasure comfort food?
Lucky Buger 🙂
Guilty pleasure TV show?
Welcome To Myrtle Manor on TLC.
Best place to eat in New York?
Oh gosh…. Scarpetta in Meat Packing?
Photo via Broadway.com