The Secret of Ryan Landry’s Success
With Mary Poppers—one of his earliest works—landing in P’town, Boston Spirit finally asked this hardcore New Englander what makes him so brilliantly hilarious
Note: The following post is adapted from a feature in the July/August 2012 issue of Boston Spirit magazine.
By Tim Sarbuals
Ryan Landry’s back in Provincetown, this time with one of the first scripts that he and the Gold Dust Orphans ever worked on, Mary Poppers. Boston Spirit caught up with the entertainment mastermind of New England to find out what keeps this brilliant performer ticking season after season after season.
BOSTON SPIRIT: So, I read that Mary Poppers was originally created in the early ‘90s but never made it to the stage. What inspired you and the Gold Dust Orphans to revisit the musical parody in 2012, almost 20 years after it was originally created?
Ryan Landry: We finally found the right “Mary” in Olive Another. Olive is everything you could want in a magical, mystical, schizophrenic, drug pushing, domestically abusive, megalomaniacal nanny. Besides the fact that she also fits in the costumes. Since we are a parodic company, it is no exaggeration that we are literally bursting with ideas at any given moment. Look at the world we live in! People are actually taking reality shows seriously! I don’t care if it’s the Kardashians or The Real Surviving Housewives of RuPaul’s Bunghole People have been dumbed down to Neanderthal levels. We as a society are in REAL trouble. So it would make sense that some ideas, even the ones we cherish, are put on the back burner to make room for the more “pressing” subjects at hand. But all the while, we had definitely planned on bringing Mary Poppers to the front. Now’s our chance.
BS: Did you have to update it at all to appeal to a contemporary audience?
RL: We did update a few things, but for the most part the original script remains intact. Since it takes place in 1910 we really weren’t required to update the “look” of the production all that much. In the end it was just a bit of dialogue. I would be happy to tell you what those particular lines are, but that would be giving the jokes away and I’m afraid that everyone, including the press, is expected to buy a ticket. That is if they in turn expect to hear “the fat lady sing.” And by the fat lady, yes, I do mean our very own Jenny Lind, Miss Delta Miles.
BS: When you and the group came up with Mary Poppers in ‘92, did you have any idea that the troupe would have so much longevity over the years?
RL: I don’t remember. I think we were all still doing a lot of coke in ‘92. Anyway, yes, to answer your question. We were friends before we were actors. Since beginning the Orphans, sometime back in the late ‘80s, I have insisted on one very important creed. That we stick together no matter what. Through thick and through thin. And there have been some very thin times, believe me. Sadly, several of the Orphans have passed on to that glittering stage on high. Some have simply moved away. But new ones pop up all the time. Regardless of these minor changes of the guard however, most of the original company is alive and well and working on our current projects.
BS: What’s the secret to the Gold Dust Orphans success?
RL: Quality. A true love of the work and the desire to make people laugh. Since we all hang out with each other on and off the stage we are able to run “bits” or concepts for characters by each other all the time. If we laugh, it usually means that the audience will laugh. This is what we live for, and it keeps us going, knowing that we play some small part in helping people forget their troubles, if only for an hour-and-a-half on any given evening.
BS: As far as your role within the troupe, I hear that you’re the mother hen of the group. Do you have a nickname within the group and has the lineup changed over the years?
RL: Many of the Orphans call me “Nana.” I don’t particularly like the name but it has stuck and I am now forced to live with it. It started with some old lady bit that I cooked up when I didn’t feel like moving the set into the back room for the umpteenth time. Pouting, I sat myself down on the couch, wrapped a rag around my head and croaked out in my best Italian grandmother voice, “Why ya’ wanna do dis’ to poor old Nana?” Suddenly everyone was calling me “Nana.” I learned my lesson, believe me. I should have just gotten off my ass, moved the damn set and kept my mouth shut.
BS: You’ve been a staple for Provincetown summers over the years. Any plans to perform in Provincetown this summer?
RL: Of course. You can expect me there for this and every summer from here to eternity. My plan is to die in Provincetown, preferably on stage, chasing a naked slave boy while dressed as a giant cucumber.
BS: When you’re in Provincetown, what are some of your favorite things to do?
RL: Work, work and work. The clock is ticking and I’m just not one to lie on the beach and read Danielle Steele novels. I do like to grow tomatoes in the summer. In the fall I can them and store them in the little fruit cellar beneath my house. I also enjoy harvesting cranberries in September and October. On stormy days I wade out into the bogs with my cranberry rake and just go to town. I faced the fact long ago that I’m a New England girl, born and bred.
BS: I’ve interviewed many celebrities in the past and your name has come up a lot. For example, Margaret Cho couldn’t stop talking about you in a recent interview. Any plans to collaborate with the celeb friends you’ve met over the years?
RL: I never really look at these people as celebrities. People are people. Margaret and I are dear friends but I don’t ask her for favors. The same goes for Dan Minahan, Michael Cunningham, John Waters, Darren Aronofsky, Jennifer Coolidge, Bruce Vilanch, Lily Taylor, Deborah Harry, Andrea Martin etc. If they want to talk show-biz, they have my number. If they just want a friend, they have one.
BS: What’s next for Ryan Landry after Mary Poppers and P'town?
RL: I have recently been contacted by a reputable casting agency to have a television show created that is based on my life with the Orphans. It is being pitched to a major cable network in Los Angeles. This is probably the fifth time that we have been approached with this concept. If it happens this time, great. If not it’s back to the cranberry bogs with Nana. Either way I’m thrilled to once again be considered.
BS: As far as your personal life, what’s a typical day in the life and times of Ryan Landry?
RL: Fifteen cups of coffee, some really bizarre junk food, writing, painting, sewing, building, a few broken promises, several wishes fulfilled, a tear or two and a whole helluva lot of laughs.
BS: As far as the gay community, it seems like we’ve made major strides over the years but there’s still some work to be done. What are your thoughts on LGBT issues?
RL: Hit back.
BS: Anything else?
RL: I think that just about covers it. Besides, I gotta get back to work. [x]
Ryan Landry as Grinchley
Ryan Landry, Provincetown, and the Legacy of the Pilgrims
By James Lopata
It’s nigh on impossible to imagine anything further from the Pilgrims’ vision of a New World than Ryan Landry’s Showgirls.
High-haired, sequined drag queens join half-naked beach boys in a booze-fueled frenzy of dancing, cussing, and sexual innuendo.
And yet, there it is, a commercial exploit just short of full frontal Bacchanalia, every Monday night, from June to September, within spitting distance of where the Mayflower first washed up on American shores nearly four centuries ago.
Our forebears may have arrived seeking freedom, but this is clearly more than they’d bargained on. William Bradford would be mortified.
Like the Pilgrims, Landry washed up on P’town’s shores many years ago. Except that, whereas the Pilgrims moved on to found a colony that would change the world, Landry’s career has never launched much beyond Boston and the tip of the Cape.
And yet Landry is rightfully recognized as one of the great entertainment geniuses of our time. For a start, Margaret Cho lauds him in a recent interview with Boston Spirit magazine. And in 2005 columnist Andrew Sullivan famously cited Landry’s work as a cultural bellwether in his influential The New Republic essay “The End of Gay Culture.”
One of the great mysteries of the universe is why Ryan Landry hasn’t gone on to greater fame.
Landry, it turns out, is one of New England’s best kept secret treasures. Every summer he makes the long haul down from Boston to the tip of Cape Cod to join the likes of major celebs like Cho, Betty Buckley, Patti Lupone, Varla Jean Merman, and David Drake.
Landry is the great irony of Massachusetts and, consequently of the United States. In a state with liberal politics—allowing legal marriage for same-sex couples—and conservative lifestyles—where Boston is one of the largest major U.S. cities without a gay bath house—Landry is able to cut through our Brahmanical veneer and expose the raunchy underside of the earnest, Puritanical American vision of itself.
Landry is the entertainer’s entertainer. He’s the cultural commentator’s cultural commentator. Landry is for those “in the know.”
The earliest European settlers sailed to the New World hoping they could create a Shining City on a Hill for the world to emulate. Landry is one of the reasons why Provincetown is still the place where the world looks for a vision of freedom.
New York and Los Angeles may be where global tastemakers ultimately end up. But it’s summers in Provincetown, under the brandishing repartee of Ryan Landry at Showgirls, that the world’s entertainment is incubated. Just ask any drag queen: if you can make it at Ryan Landry’s Showgirls, you can make it anywhere.
In his recent interview with Boston Spirit magazine, Ryan Landry says: “My plan is to die in Provincetown, preferably on stage, chasing a naked slave boy while dressed as a giant cucumber.”
The Pilgrims landed seeking not merely freedom, but a better world. If they really thought and prayed hard enough about it, they’d understand that that world includes the likes of a cucumber-costumed maniac pursuing what he loves most.
So this summer, shout out a “Hey girl!” to Ryan Landry and say “hello” to the worthy heritage of the Pilgrims.
The author is solely responsible for the content.