Stepping onto a Broadway stage for the first time, Minnetonka High School graduate Ryan McCartan broke a leg—and not in the sense of good luck. Twenty minutes before his call, McCartan twisted his ankle in a dance rehearsal. He performed that night, but was hurt and had to adjust his choreography. He says with a laugh, “My manager sent me a card that read, ‘When I said break a leg, I didn’t mean literally’—I guess you have to be careful what you wish someone.”
McCartan’s start in the theater business was also fairly accidental. As a kid, he was hanging out during his sister’s voice lesson, when the teacher asked if he could sing. McCartan and his family didn’t know it then, but that teacher was working with St. Paul’s History Theatre on the play The Christmas Schooner and was looking for someone to fill the role of a young boy character named Karl. McCartan was cast and has been performing ever since.
Starting a theatrical career on local stages is pretty typical, McCartan says, though it’s hard for him to pinpoint an exact moment when he broke out into larger performances. “It’s more of an amalgamation of many moments coming together,” he says. “Doing theater in [the Twin Cities] is what I owe all of my foundational training to … from there you make connections, and those connections have connections, and through those degrees of separation you find yourself with opportunities.” McCartan performed at the Guthrie, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and plenty of other local spots.
But making it to one of the world’s biggest stages hasn’t been easy. “You need to be willing to risk it all,” says McCartan. “Almost every time you go on an audition, the answer is going to be no. It’s easy to think of it as romantic, being a starving artist … but we’re actually hungry a lot. It’s worth noting that there’s a lot of struggle involved.”
The struggle has paid off for McCartan, who has worked extensively off-Broadway and on television, and is now starring as Fiyero in the Broadway production of Wicked. It’s a show that he has connected with since childhood. “We were kids when it reached the height of its fame. When the soundtrack came out, my voice hadn’t changed yet,” he says with a laugh. “So I was singing Glinda before I was singing Fiyero.” Today the part of Fiyero fits his voice and his professional aspirations. “In the history of Wicked there have been some really talented Broadway leading men,” he says. “I knew it would be a good stepping stone into the Broadway community.”
Despite his enormous success, McCartan remains a down-to-earth kind of guy, joking about the nerves he always feels before each performance and remarking about how he misses his home state. “The seasons are so beautiful in Minnesota, and I miss the people. I miss the sense of community. I try to get back as often as I can,” he says, adding that last Thanksgiving he and his sister made a creamy potato hotdish for their friends in New York.
Looking forward in his career, McCartan notes that he would love to be part of an original musical someday, like La La Land or A Star Is Born. When his tenure at Wicked reaches an end, McCartan says he can’t wait to see what will come next.
Keep up with McCartan on Instagram at @mccarya.