If you follow the bread crumbs of Ryan McCartan's career, you can trace his Broadway debut as Wicked's new Fiyero back to his…other Broadway debut.
McCartan had just turned 18 when his rendition of Jason Robert Brown's "Someone to Fall Back On" at the Minskoff Theatre earned him the 2011 Jimmy Award title. Jump ahead a few years. Andy Fickman, the director and executive producer of Disney's Liv & Maddie (on which McCartan played the recurring character Diggie Smalls), finds the winning Jimmys performance on YouTube and casts McCartan in a musical he's directing and producing: Heathers.
His performance as JD is seen by Kenny Ortega, who casts him as Brad in the Fox remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Ortega then puts in a good word for him with Bernie Telsey, and here he is in Fiyero's dressing room at the Gershwin Theatre, reflecting on his roundabout path back to Broadway — and this time, he gets to stay for a while.
"I remember saying what this award represents to me is a promise to myself — a promise that I'm going to keep going," McCartan said about the Jimmy Award acceptance speech his teenage self delivered on pure adrenaline. "To plant my feet on a Broadway stage again and know that I held up my end of the bargain is just one of those divine moments of poetry."
You were about 10 years old when Wicked opened on Broadway. Does that mean this is one of the cast albums you grew up on?
Absolutely. When this show came out, my sister Alison and I would sing it all the time in the car. But my voice hadn't changed yet so we were singing Elphaba and Glinda together. I couldn't even sing Fiyero, and then when my voice changed I remember having the distinct thought of, "Oh man, this would be a character that I would love to play on Broadway. But by the time I'm old enough I'm sure it'll close." And here it is — this behemoth that will never go anywhere ever. It's literally one of my biggest dreams coming true.
Were you more of a Glinda or an Elphaba?
We were a very democratic sibling duo, but I think I was more of a Glinda. Alison usually sang "Defying Gravity" and I sang "Popular."
How did you feel the night of your first performance?
I remember 20 minutes before half hour, I was onstage rehearsing the dance numbers one more time, and there's this bit where I jump up on a ladder and I do this little move and then I jump off the ladder — and when I jumped off the ladder I rolled my ankle! But I could walk and it was fine. And it ended up sort of being a godsend because all I could think about the whole show was that ankle. Coming into the theater I was so nervous for the night, but when "Dancing Through Life" was happening I thought, "Oh my god, I'm thinking so much about my ankle that I'm not even nervous." And then I jumped up on that massive statue and was like, "This is happening!" Between that and taking the bow that I've been thinking of since I was 6 years old, those were easily two of the coolest moments of one of the coolest nights of my life.
Were you a more diligent student than Fiyero?
My dad is an educator and comes from a family of educators, so education is really important to us. I went to school at the University of Minnesota for 70 days at the Guthrie BFA program and I have nothing but good things to say about that program. Next sentence: I dropped out. I always wonder if I did it over again if I would have gone to a school that wasn't 30 minutes from the house that I grew up in that maybe I would have stayed in school. I was really terrified to tell my parents, "I'm thinking about not going to school." But my dad told me, "I don't need you to go to college but I need you to always be committed to learning," and I've really appreciated that about him.
So I don't have that much in common with Fiyero in that regard, but I will tell you, singing an anthem about dancing through life every night and reminding yourself that nothing matters, that's actually really therapeutic to do! That is what I think we have in common, me and him. This is all I want and if I had to pick one thing that I care about, this is all I care about. But I don't take it so seriously. And that I think is very much Fiyero's MO.
Do you choose your projects with that take-it-as-it-comes attitude? You've managed to strike a balance between film, TV, and theater that's not easy to come by.
I've always been a pretty impulsive guy that way, but I'm not reckless. The perfect world for me is to be able to do all the things I want to do, so I just need to stay open and go where the wind takes me. And that's a little scary sometimes. But ultimately I don't think I would trade in what I have now for security because I don't really need it right now. Maybe I will someday and when that's the case I'll adapt and respond as we all do. But I've kind of liked how it's unfolded so far.
Is your family excited to see you as Fiyero?
Wicked is my grandma's favorite musical of all time. My sister and I saw it with her in Minneapolis when I was 13 and she's coming to see me in a couple of weeks. That will be the crowning achievement of my life. That grandma will see her favorite musical with her grandson in it on Broadway.