Theater profile: Patrick Ryan Sullivan from freeFall's The Burnt Part Boys

From the Space Coast to Broadway to St. Pete, Sullivan is well-traveled and well-received.

The Burnt Part Boys
runs at freeFall Theatre June 14-July 6. 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; $29-$44, $26-$41 students/seniors; 727-498-5205,

Patrick Ryan Sullivan looks and sounds like a 1950s idea of an actor: tall and handsome and athletic, with a confident, deep voice and an ingratiating, all-American personal style.

An athlete he was: he played college and high school football, and also played Class A professional baseball as a catcher. (“How are your knees?” I ask him. “They hurt,” he says and laughs.) But the Broadway actor-singer, who moved back to Florida from New York to help look after his aging parents, will be appearing in St. Petersburg next weekend, and not in his much-loved Manhattan. He’s got a key role in freeFall Theatre’s The Burnt Part Boys, the bluegrass musical about a group of ’60s West Virginia boys who lost their fathers in a mining accident, and who are searching for the meaning of manhood.

It’s a subject the actor, 48, understands well. “There’s no doubt that it’s a period piece,” says Sullivan, “but I think relationships between fathers and their sons don’t change.” A case in point: his own choice to make a career in New York. “I was working out in Seattle,” Sullivan says, “and my father ended up doing a production of Damn Yankees with me. Never acted before, had a beautiful voice, came out, did this production ... and at the end of the run, he said, ‘What are you doing in Seattle?’ It took my father to say,

‘It’s okay with me for you to go to New York.’ And I didn’t realize that at the time, I thought I was going out and doing my thing. But it still took that father figure of mine to say, ‘It’s fine. Go.’ I needed to hear my father say it was OK. And you know, these kids don’t.”

Sullivan’s father was in the military, so though the actor was born in Titusville, Fla., he moved around constantly during his youth. “I consider myself raised on a little teeny island in the South Pacific called Kwajalein,” he says. “I was there from 5 to about 12. And there were movies, but there was no TV, no radio, all we did was play and have books.” When he was 16, Sullivan found himself in an American school in Lugano, Switzerland, acting in his first musical, The Fantasticks — and getting hooked on theater. A couple of years later, he was back in the States at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, where he had a football scholarship but majored in vocal music education. And then “right out of school I ended up getting a tour that went to Japan. Took me to Seattle, lived in Seattle for five years, had this experience with my dad, and literally two months later I packed up and went to New York. And I lived in New York for 15 years.”

In New York, Sullivan was quickly snapped up for The Pirates of Penzance at Westchester Broadway Theatre (a dinner theater), and then got a job as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast at Walt Disney World. “So I moved back to Florida and was there for like three months, and my dad said, ‘What are you doing here? I just told you to go to New York!’”

Listening again to his dad, he returned to the Apple, where his Broadway credits came to include Titanic, 42nd Street, and, again, Beauty and the Beast. He also worked Off- and Off-Off-Broadway, and unlike most New York actors (“I was very lucky”) didn’t need a day job to pay the rent. Still, he auditioned like mad: in his first year in New York he tried out for 120 roles, and received 10 callbacks, five of which turned into paying gigs. He recognizes that’s a good percentage — but still, nothing just came to him. He worked for every part.

Sullivan is confident that he made the right choice when, four years ago, he moved back to Florida so he could help look after his parents back in Titusville. He got a Disney World job (as Bruce the Shark in Finding Nemo: The Musical), and hooked up with freeFall, where he’s appeared in three plays and consistently shown himself to be a real pro. There was his angst-ridden Monsieur in An Empty Plate at the Café du Grand Boeuf; his swaggering, Simon Cowell-like Norman in American Monkey; and his bloodthirsty Mikado in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. No matter what you thought of the plays, you had to admire Sullivan’s acting: this was a powerful, imposing presence that demanded respect.

He still misses New York (“I try not to think about it”), but he’s bought a house in Orlando and will let the future take care of itself.

And he loves The Burnt Part Boys.

“This is why I do theater,” he says. “It’s all about the art.”


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