The Tony Award–winning musical Anything Goes celebrates the music of gay composer Cole Porter—and it’s coming to the Ahmanson Theatre. We spoke with Ryan Steer, the out dancer who stars as a hunky sailor aboard the S.S. American about what we can expect to see when the show pulls into our harbor.
What’s the basic plot of Anything Goes?
It’s a hilarious farce—very slapstick and goofy with a lot of physical comedy. We follow the story of Billy Crocker, a stockbroker on Wall Street. He falls in love with Hope Harcourt, a debutante who’s set to wed an English gentleman. Billy doesn't have a ticket for the boat, so he meets a gangster on the ship, Moonface Martin. With his help and the help of Reno Sweeney, a nightclub evangelist singer played by Rachel York, Billy wins the hand of Hope Harcourt. It’s short, it’s light and there’s lots of great choreography. The whole show has a sort of throwback to old Hollywood, like the MGM classics.
Tell us about your character.
I play a sailor and a passenger, so I’m in the ensemble. The sailors are these ruggedly handsome men who have style. Then I get to change costumes and play a passenger. The passengers on the boat are rich. The women were debutantes, and the men were very wealthy. Traveling back then was not a casual thing like it has become today. People would make these epic journeys from the East Coast to London all the time, but it was always a big deal. It wasn’t something for the poor of pocket. [Laughs]
As a gay man, how does it feel to be part of such an iconic Cole Porter production?
I have always been a huge Cole Porter fan, even before I was into musical theater. I remember sitting around my dad’s study—my dad plays the guitar—and we would play songs like “Night and Day,” “De-Lovely” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.” I grew up listening to old jazz, so it's truly special to be able to live and breathe that music every night.
Was it always a dream of yours to be an actor?
My interest began in the visual arts. I did a lot of pottery, painting and drawing. I realized that I didn’t know where I was going with it, but I knew I would be involved in the arts somehow. It wasn’t until my later years of middle school that I began to explore acting. I did street theater all throughout high school. Then when I went to college, I became a dance major and it just snowballed from there. Whenever I go and talk to kids around the country, I always encourage them to try new things, because you never know. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to try dancing, because it became such a passion in my life. I can’t imagine if I had been too afraid to take that first class and afraid to make mistakes. It really broadens your horizons.
When did you first perform in front of a live audience?
My most notable memory was when I was 16 years old. I auditioned for My Fair Lady in high school. I got the part of Henry Higgins. My dad tells me to this day that he was scared shitless for me. Not that he didn’t think I could do it, he just had no idea. The thought of me memorizing all those words is baffling to him. He kept his reservations to himself and was just blown away by the performance. That was the moment I started to brainstorm that maybe there was something there.
You travel a lot for your work. Do you get to go out and see the gay scene in the different cities you visit?
Yeah, I always try to. Obviously, in the business of musical theater, you’re going to run into a lot of gay men and women. It’s great to meet all the different guys and girls in the gay scene. We have fun and like to travel around to the different bars and see the local scene. Gay bars aside, I am a big fan of seeing local places, local restaurants, shops. I love to support local businesses no matter where I go. You travel on the road for so long and you think to yourself, “Oh my God, if I have to eat at Applebee’s one more time, I’m going to kill myself.”
Do you like the traveling aspect of musical theater?
Absolutely. When I was a kid, one of the things I said I wanted to do with my life from a very early age was travel. The fact that I’m able to do what I love and still able to see the country is a huge opportunity. I’ve been all over the world performing. I’m super fortunate to be in the position I’m in.
Anything Goes plays the Ahmanson Theatre Nov. 27 - Jan. 6. Visit centertheatregroup.org for more details and to purchase tickets. Photos by Jennifer Broski.