Age & Hometown: 29; Muskego, WI
Current Role: A piano-playing, mile-a-minute off-Broadway debut as Marcus Moskowitz, a wannabe detective who interviews a house of kooky suspects to solve a crime that could make or break his career in Murder For Two.
Small World: Growing up surrounded by “dairy farms and fields,” Ryback jokes that his rural hometown—which didn’t even have a Wal-Mart—is totally “Midwestern chic.” Ryback caught the acting bug early, performing in children’s theater productions and plunking out Lion King songs on his keyboard—but he had no idea his seventh grade teacher, Ms. Kinosian, would pave the way for his off-Broadway debut 15 years later. “The minute I saw [co-composer] Joe Kinosian at the Murder For Two audition, I got this crazy flash,” Ryback says. “I remembered my teacher telling me about her nephew, who also loved theater. And it turns out, she used to tell Joe about me, too!” When Ms. Kinosian came to New York to see Murder For Two, student and teacher reunited for the first time, nearly 800 miles from home. “It’s such a super-crazy, wonderful connection,” he says.
Piano Man: On the advice of his piano teacher Jack Forbes Wilson, Ryback majored in music composition at UCLA instead of theater. “Jack said, ‘You know less about music than acting, and if you’re gonna pay for college, you should study something you don’t know as much about,’" Ryback explains. The degree certainly comes in handy in Murder For Two—the star accompanies himself on the piano while singing, dancing and solving crimes. Ryback also met his best friend, Matilda's Lesli Margherita, in college, and the pair starred in a 2011 regional production of Little Shop of Horrors (click here for a clip!). Working in the Big Apple, they’ve gotten even closer. “Lesli lives near New World Stages, so we have lots of date nights,” he says, adding with a laugh, “We’re both big red wine drinkers!” Ryback will even spend the holidays with Margherita’s dog Stewie: “I’m his de facto dog sitter.”
He Needs a Partner: In Murder For Two, Ryback interrogates, argues with and even falls head over heels for 12 wacky suspects, all played by one co-star, Broadway vet Jeff Blumenkrantz. “Jeff and I have developed not only a chemistry and a camaraderie, but a telepathy,” the actor jokes. “I wonder if [Big Fish headliners] Norbert Leo Butz and Kate Baldwin are always texting each other like we are!” It may help that both are theater composers as well as actors—Rybeck's musicals include Liberty Inn and The Tavern Keeper's Daughter. “We’ve developed an unspoken connection, being together so much,” he says of Blumenkrantz. “There are so many times when we’ll be onstage, and we’ll look into each other’s eyes, and we’ll just know exactly what the other person is thinking. We’re in this together!”