Ryan J. Haddad in ‘Falling For Make Believe.’ (Photo: Albie Mitchell)
Since its inception 16 years ago, The Public’s Under the Radar Festival has become a launching pad for emerging artists. Its broad-sweeping mission — to “provide a snapshot of contemporary theater: richly distinct in terms of perspectives, aesthetics, and social practice, and pointing to the future of the art form” — has established a dedicated following. Ryan J. Haddad’s new solo cabaret show, Falling For Make Believe, is a welcome addition to a growing roster of more than 229 companies from around the world. Intimate, smart and uncompromising, the uproarious bookends of applause were well-earned at a recent performance of the limited run, which continues through January 17.
Haddad, who grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Parma, Ohio, took a quick liking to Disney princesses, Barney, pop songs, and — eventually — musical theater. Cerebral palsy may have delayed his ability to walk, but it certainly couldn’t contain a child’s imagination. Over eight years, Haddad recruited family members to participate in The Haddad Theater, migrating from the living room to the backyard to the community center, where he charged a dollar for his mostly unscripted adaptations.
Haddad spins hilarious tales of his bravado, casting his 48-year-old lesbian aunt as Snow White, playing both twins in a The Parent Trap, and adapting Annie to Andy so he could play the title role. Throughout his narrative, Haddad peppers the evening with songs, from “Someday My Prince Will Come” and a medley from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown to “A Way Back to Then” from [title of show].
Haddad jokes that he’s an “actor who sings.” Still, the tender baritone can’t hide his easy delivery, with a natural phrasing made only more impactful by legendary musical director Billy Stritch at the piano.
With deadpan humor, Haddad says, “When I was 11 years old, I became dissatisfied with mediocrity,” referring to his zealous attempts to amp up the production value and performances. He occasionally acknowledges the impact of his disability, but Falling for Make Believe is much more about the lasting effect of his familial relationships.
“No matter what, I’m standing on stage or on camera with a walker next to me. That is representation,” said Haddad in a recent interview for The Broadway Blog. “It doesn’t always have to be about the disability to be representative of the disabled experience.”
Haddad will reprise his role in the second season of Netflix’s The Politician and also continues to tour his one-person show, Hi, Are You Single?. But for those with a soft spot for musical theater (or anyone who ever belted out “Tomorrow” in their family room when nobody was home), Falling For Make Believe offers a joyous reflection on the value of family, show tunes and resiliency.
Ryan J. Haddad: Falling For Make Believe
425 Lafayette St., NYC
January 16, 17
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. His culture writing has appeared in Dramatics Magazine and on TDF Stages and ShowTickets.com. Matthew is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a past fellowship recipient from The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Critics Institute. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.