Bryce Ryness in Hair
Hometown: Danville, California
Currently: Singing of the joys of “Sodomy” and nursing a crush on Mick Jagger as Woof, the soulful hippie in the hit Broadway revival of Hair.
All-American Boy: Growing up in Northern California, young Bryce concentrated on athletics. “If I wasn’t playing baseball, I was playing soccer,” he says, beginning a litany. “If I wasn’t playing soccer, I was playing basketball. And if I wasn’t playing basketball, I was practicing baseball again. I loved sports, to the point that in my senior year I was a starter on the water polo team.” Everything changed when an errant pitch fractured Ryness’ thumb, dashing his hopes of winning a spot on one of the University of Southern California’s world-class teams. “That’s when singing and artistic endeavors took a greater presence in my life.”
College Sweethearts: While earning a business degree in entrepreneurial studies at USC, Ryness joined a campus a cappella group called the SoCal VoCals. In his junior year, he took a musical theater workshop alongside a freshman lyric soprano named Meredith Anderson. “She got up and sang and I thought, ‘Hel-LO!’ and I got up and sang and she thought, ‘Hel-LO! Who is this?’” he recalls with a laugh. By the following semester they were dating, and they’ve been married since 2005. Next up: parenthood, with an August 31 due date. “We hypothesize that the baby is a girl because my brother has two girls, but we want to be surprised,” he says.
The Musical Man: After graduation, Ryness joined a singing group at Disney’s California Adventure theme park and provided backup vocals for the likes of Josh Groban and Roger Daltrey at the Hollywood Bowl. His first paying job in a musical? “The illustrious 2004 production of Annie at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts,” he quips. “I was the third guy from the left.” A year and a half later, just as he’d been tapped to join a company of Blue Man Group, he won the role of Roger in the Rent national tour. “That was a big break and came at a huge career crossroads,” he says now. Newlyweds at the time, he and Meredith agreed to figure out a way to see each other at least every three weeks, “and if either of us called and said, ‘I need you right now,’ we would do it. We only utilized that trump card once.”
Blonde Ambition: Another break came when Ryness, now living in New York and struggling to make ends meet, auditioned for the ensemble role of Aaron in Legally Blonde on Broadway. “Meredith and I were in a financial place where we were literally on our knees praying to God, ‘If you want us to stay here, you’ve got to give us a sign.’ Within a week of that prayer, I booked my first Broadway show.” Around the same time, Ryness formed an eponymous rock group, which has booked a gig at Joe's Pub on July 20, his night off from Hair. Though he loves the band, it's taken a backseat to Broadway for now. “The business administration side of my brain says, ‘The music industry is in shambles,’” he admits, “so I’m writing songs and we’re recording, but we’re doing it in our spare time.”
Hair! Hair! Hair! Tracing Hair’s journey from a weekend of concerts in 2007 to Central Park in 2008 to a triumphant Broadway opening in March 2009 (and a Drama Desk Award nomination for his performance), Ryness says, “I feel like the show has grown and matured in a very methodical way. I have to give so much credit to [casting directors] Jordan [Thaler] and Heidi [Griffiths] because they were able to assemble a real tribe—interesting people who could sing—rather than looking for ‘names.’” The camaraderie continues the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, thanks to the diversity of the cast: “On Saturday night, you could ask, ‘Where’s everybody going?’ [after the show] and get 26 different answers, from ‘I’m deejaying a gig’ to ‘I’m going to an art gallery,’” Ryness marvels. “Friendships have formed, but not in a Mean Girls way. It’s a very inclusive cast.”
Take It Off: We’ve gotta ask about the nudity in Hair, right? Ryness takes a spiritual view: “Ever since I got married, I haven’t had a problem being naked in public because the one person I actually care about seeing me naked, my wife, has seen me.” Because of the communal nature of the production, disrobing is just one element of what Ryness calls an ongoing “dialogue with the audience.” He explains, “It’s like having a conversation, and although the nudity is comfortable for me, it never gets rote. It’s always a balancing act to find the best way to do it so it’s not exploitive or pornographic or overly confident on the one side, and not sheepish or cowardly or with any trace of shame on the other side.” In the end, he says, “The richest moment in the show is one of the simplest: when I turn to the audience and say, ‘I love you.’”