For Ryan Reid’s first role since the pandemic closed theatres, he joined the West End cast of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre earlier this year as Fiyero, alongside a cast including Lucie Jones as Elphaba and Helen Woolf as Glinda, with tickets currently booking until May 2023. Prior to the pandemic, Ryan was playing Angel City Four in City of Angels at the Garrick Theatre, which closed early due to COVID closing theatres around the world, and he was in the cast of Sweet Charity at Donmar Warehouse, which was Josie Rourke’s last show as artistic director. Ryan was in the original West End cast of Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre, having joined as Ensemble before taking over the role of Curtis Taylor Jr. until the show’s closure in London, and his previous work has included being Swing and understudy Benny in In the Heights at King’s Cross Theatre, understudy Donkey on the Shrek the Musical UK Tour, and having screen experience, he played Ricky in Land of Dreams. Speaking with Ryan, he tells us about playing Fiyero in Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, being in the original West End cast of Dreamgirls and his time in In the Heights as Swing and understudy Benny.
How did it feel booking your role of Fiyero in Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre and what is the character like to play?
I was really excited when I booked the role of Fiyero as it is a really fun role to play, and I also found out shortly after booking the role that I would be the first black actor in the UK to play him.
The character is fun to play as he has a big journey in the show starting as a young laid-back playboy to a man who stands up for what he believes by the end of the show!
What was it like reading the script for the first time and rehearsing for the role?
I really enjoyed the rehearsal period and it was nice to have two new witches joining/re-joining the show at the same time. We could really work on our chemistry and find character relationships together in organic ways.
How was it joining the cast earlier this year and returning to live theatre for the first time since the pandemic started?
It was a little bit nerve-racking if I’m honest, as I hadn’t been on stage since theatres had closed at the beginning of the pandemic. But once I had got my stamina back to show level and dusted off any other cobwebs, it was really fun and I realised how much I missed it during the pandemic.
Can you tell us how it felt on your opening night and how is it performing at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in the West End?
On the opening night, we had only done a full run of the show in costumes and on stage in the dress rehearsal that morning due to time constraints etc. So we went into the opening night show with some excited, nervous energy, but the audience were incredible and the cast and crew really came together and we all had an incredible night. I will remember it for the rest of my career as there was such an amazing buzz.
Is there anything that originally drew you to the musical and what are you looking forward to for continuing as Fiyero?
I personally love the message of the show, which is to not judge a book by its cover the most. It was what initially drew me to the show when I first saw it when it opened and I had forgotten how important that message is until I joined the show. During rehearsals, I rediscovered that in fact ALL the characters shouldn’t be judged by how they are presented when you first meet them as they all evolve by the end of the show!
You had opened as Angel City Four in City of Angels at the Garrick Theatre just before COVID, what were you enjoying about being part of the show?
It goes without saying that the score and script are so clever and beautifully put together, but I think what made that show really special for me personally was the cast. It was a brilliant rehearsal room to be in watching everyone work and seeing everyone’s process.
Can you tell us about your time in Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse?
I was grateful to have worked at the Donmar and to be part of Josie Rourke’s last show there. Once again, it was great to be a part of a rehearsal room with incredibly talented artists in the cast and creative team.
It was also nice to go from the Savoy to the Donmar and experience working in a completely different space and how that informs our performance.
You played Curtis Taylor Jr. in Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre, how was this?
It was honestly a dream come true (Excuse the pun!). Dreamgirls was one of my dream shows and to be able to start in the original West End cast in the Ensemble without a cover and then end the West End run as Curtis was definitely not something I expected going into the show! I also hadn’t played a complex character like Curtis until that point professionally in my career so that was an amazing learning curve and I am grateful for all the things I learnt along the way.
As a Swing and understudy Benny in In the Heights at King’s Cross Theatre, what was this like to do?
I originally didn’t want to Swing as I think it is such a hard job. However, if I wanted to understudy Benny, I had to take the Swing as that was part of the track. I’m so glad I had to Swing as I learnt so much about myself as a performer doing it. I would also recommend that everybody try swinging a show in their career, as if you thought you respected Swings before, you will respect them even more afterwards. I also enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would and I learnt that if I can do that and do cut shows and go on for girls’ parts that I hadn’t learnt before the show then I can do anything in this career!!
Understudying Benny was amazing as well as I loved singing his songs at drama school, so being able to sing them with the show was really great. I also got to perform at West End Live as Benny, which was really exciting and really nice for me to have the footage now to remember it!
Did you have a favourite aspect of understudying Donkey in the Shrek the Musical UK Tour and how did you find the experience touring?
My favourite aspect of understudying Donkey, apart from going on and playing him, was putting on the makeup and the costume! All the costumes and sets were so clever and really managed to bring the animated film alive on stage! But I really enjoyed the Donkey costume and, because I’m 6ft, I used to joke that I looked more like a Shire horse up there than a donkey!!
The touring aspect was fun for me at the time as I made lifelong friends on the tour so living with them and travelling around the country was really fun… when you had good digs! However, I’ve seen on friends’ social media accounts that recently the touring digs can be very questionable at times and I think that definitely needs to be looked into to make touring safe and comfortable for the cast and crew!!
How did you get into theatre and is it something you always wanted to do?
I’ve always wanted to be a performer as I used to watch music videos on the TV and try and copy them from a young age and that was the start really! My parents then sent me to stage school on the weekends and I’ve never really looked back!
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
I always love The Lion King as it was such a big part of my childhood and the opening is, in my opinion, one of the best musical theatre opening numbers to watch! I would love to play Mufasa in the future. There are probably quite a few others that I can’t think of off the top of my head!!
What do you enjoy most about working on screen and commercials, which has included playing Ricky in Land of Dreams?
I loved the catering on set!!!
Joking aside, I like the buzz of a film/commercial set! And with playing Ricky, it was nice to try a scene in slightly different ways and give the director options when it comes to the final edit! One thing I do find weird about working on screen is that you don’t shoot in order, which is understandable but I am so used to theatre!
Have you been given any advice over the years that has stuck with you?
“What’s for you will not pass you by” and “It’s NOT REJECTION, it’s REDIRECTION”.
I think these pieces of advice are always good to remember when you are auditioning or feel a bit lost in this crazy industry!
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