Former O'Fallon resident plays Pharoah at The Fox

For the News-DemocratApril 24, 2014 

Performing on the Fox stage is a thrill that never diminishes for Ryan Williams, a former O'Fallon resident who returns to the historic theater for the fourth time next week.

Plus, he gets the bonus of Mom's home-cooking.

Touring as the colorful, comical Pharoah in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which will be at the Fox from Tuesday through May 11, Williams is also eager to see family and friends.

"The Fox is definitely the most beautiful theater I've ever performed in -- it's just incredible. It'll be fun to see my signature on the wall again," he said, referring to a cast custom.

His parents plan on bringing a big contingent from their O'Fallon church, and there are schoolmates he still keeps in touch with, too. He'll be staying with Mom and Dad during the two weeks he's here.

"It'll be nice to spend some time with the folks," he said during a phone interview from Oklahoma City. "My mom put it on her Facebook page, so I've been hearing from people who are coming, excited about the show."

Williams attended kindergarten and first grade in O'Fallon, during one of his father's assignments at Scott Air Force Base. His father, George M. Williams, eventually retired as the wing commander.

"I've been an actor my whole life," he said. "I started with after-school theater programs."

Skilled as an actor, singer and dancer, Williams has worked primarily in musical theater ever since graduating from college in 1997.

"I went to a small school, Shenandoah College in Winchester, Va., and it was a really good experience. Because it was a small school, I got a lot of attention, and was able to perform in shows starting my freshman year, where at some of the larger performing arts schools, you don't get on stage until your junior or senior year."

He scored his first professional role in "Grease," after a giant cattle call in New York City, and has played both Kenickie and Danny.

His first show at the Fox was "Les Miserables" in 2006, getting to play Enjolras in front of hometown fans. "It's a dear place in my heart, and I'll never forgot that feeling."

He has toured in Flashdance," and "Memphis," where he met his fiancee, Kristin Piro.

"I have been lucky enough to be picked for shows that ran for a long time," he said. He's been in "Joseph" before, too.

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is the first musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to be performed publicly. It was first conceived in 1968. The story is based on the Bible's Book of Genesis story on Joseph's coat of many colors. Mostly sung through with little dialogue, its pop, rock and country-flavored score is popular, and a big draw for families.

The tour is headlined by "American Idol" alums Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo, who are married. Young is Joseph and DeGarmo is the Narrator.

"They are two of the loveliest people I've ever met, and they're just wonderful on stage. They both have charisma and can sing. They're very accessible," he said

The road production has been rejuvenated, and St. Louis will be the fifth stop on the tour since it opened in mid-March in Chicago.

"There's a new look to it, and a new sound. They've done a really good job of adding to what's on stage. People have never seen anything like it, even if they've seen it before, it's really cool," he said.

The Pharoah is a memorable role that he enjoys, a parody of Elvis Presley's later image as "The King." This is his fourth time, and the tour runs until mid-April next year, although there is talk of extending it.

"I've kind of made a career out of playing Elvis," he laughed. "I was Conrad in 'Bye Bye Birdie.' I was first introduced to 'Joseph' in high school, the record with Donny Osmond. I loved the music, and I thought the mega-mix was so cool. They've definitely changed the approach, not so much the '80s anymore. I love going out and wearing the flashiest costume, and making the show fun."

Hard work goes into maintaining the body for the physical demands of a show, to make sure one is well-rested, and also in shape vocally.

"It's a lot of things to take care of. I'll definitely be hitting Gold's Gym while I'm there."

Life on the road is grueling enough, then add a long-distance relationship now that his fiancee is appearing on Broadway in the smash hit "Rocky," as Shirley, aka the "Ring Girl."

"It's been kind of hard the entire last year, especially with my fiancee back in New York, and I was on the cruise ship The Breakaway in "Rock of Ages" as Stacee Jax," he said.

But he's eager to get a taste of home -- even for a little bit. "I'm so grateful for the opportunity to perform in St. Louis. It's going to be a great homecoming."

At a glance

What: "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

When: April 29-May 11

Where: Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Tickets: 314-534-1111 or

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