Newsies Star Michael Patrick Ryan Shares His 2020 Vision
by Steve Desroches
Top Image: Photo: Michael Kushner
Actor and singer Michael Patrick Ryan received his credentials as a certified vocal performance instructor the day Broadway shows shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Living in uber expensive New York City and being in an unpredictable field meant he was keen on developing a side hustle, or two, while he auditioned for shows and performed in cabarets throughout the city. So teaching others with a passion for music and a zest for performance was right in his wheelhouse. But the news that the stages, big and small, in New York were going dark indefinitely was a blow to the up-and-coming actor. It wasn’t just the musicals and plays currently on the marquees that were closing, but so, too, was everything in the pipeline. All of the creative energy that Broadway is built on lost its light as well. Part of the magic of a city like New York is you never quite know when an opportunity might come your way, and when it might be your big break. But what was certain in March 2020 was that all of that was about to dry up like the Sahara as New York, and the rest of the world, plunged into a global crisis.
Reflecting on those early days of the pandemic Ryan tips his head back and pulls his hair tight with both hands, and then looks forward and laughs. It was a crazy time indeed. Being on stage is lifeblood to Ryan and here he is limited to teaching people to sing via Zoom—not an ideal way to teach or learn, never mind the irony that both the student and teacher wouldn’t have a live audience for quite some time to come. Weeks turned to months, and then a full year, of largely being home with the only creative outlet being to sing to the eye of the camera on his phone for an unseen audience. But then the vaccines came, and cases began to drop signaling a light at the end of the tunnel. Ryan began to write and he drafted 2020 Vision, a cabaret show he’s performed all summer long at the Post Office Cabaret that’s extended through September.
“I thought, ‘what if I did this 2020 victory lap and poked fun at all the stuff we all went through and reflect on how we came out of this dark and scary time,’” says Ryan. “And, well, yeah. As it turned out it wasn’t over. But I’m getting a good response to the show. People are telling me it’s therapeutic. Eighty percent of the show is goofy and funny. It’s just to give people a break from everything and just laugh a little. I’m totally an optimist. One of those annoying glass-is-half-full people. If we can point out what we all went through, and hope to never have to do again, we can laugh our way out of it.”
The show opened the first week of July, and at that point the state of things felt like they were improving. But then of course the town was hit with an outbreak of largely breakthrough cases of COVID-19 that made international news. Adjusting for this sharp turn into what felt like a brick wall for the town, the wellbeing of its residents and visitors as well as the economy, changes were made and the show went on, with masks and vaccination cards required. While he’s still young, Ryan knows in life adaptability is critical and that easy come, easy go is just a law of nature.
With natural talent that, with the support of his family, he cultivated, Ryan graduated from Braintree High School just outside of Boston in 2009 and then continued his studies at Pace University in New York. After graduating he landed a job performing for Carnival Cruise Lines for about a year and then returned to New York and within weeks landed a principal role in the national tour of the popular musical Newsies. He laughs at how it all seems to defy reality and came so easy, which at the time left him thinking he was on his way to being “a superstar!” But before that could happen, there was one small problem. Newsies is in part known for its highly energetic dance numbers, a discipline notably absent from his resume.
“I’m not a dancer,” says Ryan. “Nope. Not a dancer. I’m what I like to call a passionate mover. I can move passionately, but the actual moves I’m not sure I got. But they made me take dance lessons three days a week in addition to rehearsals. I managed to pull it off.”
After touring the United States and Canada for a year and half, Ryan thought he’d land another big job. But that’s when he says the reality of life as an actor hit. He worked as a waiter and taught some classes here and there, all while auditioning. He had lots of contacts, which kept him in the loop to perform in one-offs and short runs of shows at New York’s many cabarets, like 54 Below and the Cutting Room. True to his optimistic nature, Ryan says the struggle made him appreciate every success more deeply and taught him how to hustle even faster. Shaking every tree for a chance to work led him to Provincetown for the summer in 2019 for a series of gigs at the piano bar in Tin Pan Alley. And then when the owners of that venue, Jack Kelly and Paul Melanson, bought the Post Office Café and Cabaret, Ryan pitched his “the sun will come out, tomorrow” show, landing a chance to perform all summer long. The high-energy show features covers of songs made famous by Judy Garland and Disney as well as parodies relating to the pandemic of “On My Own” from Les Miserables, which explores sexting as the only sexual outlet during lockdown, and his take on “Ladies Who Lunch” from Company. It may take a little longer than we expected, but better days are coming, says Ryan. And he’s already feeling it, as his run at the Post Office Cabaret is his first stage engagement since before March 2020.
“There was a part of me that was returning again,” says Ryan of being able to perform again. “I didn’t realize how much I missed performing. When you love performing and sharing what you do in a collective live experience, when it’s gone it’s like a piece of you is missing. I felt whole again when I got to perform again at the Post Office. I’m so grateful.”
Michael Patrick Ryan presents 2020 Vision at the Post Office Cabaret, 303 Commercial St., Saturday, September 11, Friday, September 24, and Saturday, September 25 at 6 p.m. Tickets ($25) are available at the box office and online at postofficecafe.net. For more information call 508.487.0087.