Conrad Ricamora endeared himself to a generation of television viewers by charming the pants off Jack Falahee ― in both the literal and figurative sense ― on ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” for six seasons.
Many fans, however, may be surprised to know that Ricamora was a theater actor prior to his television fame, with a stage resume that includes the 2015 Broadway revival of “The King and I” as well as the off-Broadway musicals “Here Lies Love” and “Soft Power.”
This spring, Ricamora returns to the stage in the off-Broadway revival of “Little Shop of Horrors,” now playing at New York’s Westside Theatre. The musical follows a meek flower shop assistant named Seymour Krelborn (Ricamora), who discovers an extraterrestrial plant that feeds on human flesh. The plant becomes a national sensation and helps Seymour bond with a similarly down-on-her-luck colleague, Audrey (Tammy Blanchard), but catastrophe looms as he must figure out new ways to satiate his horticultural discovery’s thirst for blood.
When Ricamora joined the musical’s cast in January, he faced the unenviable task of embodying a role played by Jonathan Groff to great acclaim when the production opened in 2019. Groff’s successors in the role have also included actors Gideon Glick and Jeremy Jordan, both beloved Broadway stalwarts who have since parlayed their theatrical chops into success on television and in film.
Fortunately, Ricamora had not seen his predecessors’ performances as Seymour beforehand, which meant he was able to approach the role with neutrality. Like Groff and Glick, the California-born Filipino actor is gay. He is also the first Asian American to assume the role in the current production, and being to offer audiences that intersectional representation is something he doesn’t take for granted.
“Seymour isn’t a gay or Asian character, so it’s an opportunity for me to tell a story that isn’t a queer or Asian American story, but just a human story,” Ricamora told HuffPost. “I would love for other Asian American actors to have opportunities to do that. That’s something I’m really excited and hopeful for.”
“This is a character who was born into really desperate, desolate circumstances,” he added. “His story is about the lengths we, as human beings, will go to find connection and love, whether it’s right or wrong. That’s a strong theme in the show that I really love.”
Ricamora’s “Little Shop of Horrors” casting comes at a time when Asian American representation in New York’s theater industry remains at a startling low. A 2019 study conducted by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition found that while 33% of all roles on New York stages went to performers from marginalized groups in the 2016-2017 season, Asian actors filled just 7.3% of those roles.
That community was poised to get a boost in theatrical representation in 2020, when nine works by Asian playwrights were slated to be staged in the Big Apple. Before many of those works were produced, however, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many theaters and performance venues across the United States.
Once Broadway and off-Broadway theaters reopened their doors last fall, many were eager to tout the theater industry’s so-called “reckoning” when it came to presenting Black and Latinx experiences onstage. When asked why he believes the Asian presence in theater has not yet followed suit, Ricamora said, “That’s a dissertation-level conversation that is multilayered and nuanced.”
“As Asians, we’re not always encouraged to use our bodies and physicality and image in terms of expression,” he said. “Within our own culture, there’s not a lot of encouragement in terms of showing our own image in front of people. We’re taught to work hard behind the scenes, to keep our heads down and achieve status and success that way. But with that comes a lack of physical image-based representation. That does a lot to our self-esteem and sense of selves.”
Ricamora is slated to star in “Little Shop of Horrors” through May 15, after which he’ll be replaced by “Pitch Perfect” and “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” star Skylar Astin as Seymour. About a month after that, he’ll return to the small screen alongside Joel Kim Booster, Margaret Cho and Bowen Yang in Hulu’s “Fire Island,” which has been billed as an LGBTQ-inclusive adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” that takes place on Fire Island, New York’s premier gay resort destination.
“It was just a dream to work with everyone on that movie,” Ricamora said. “[Booster] has been coming to Fire Island for years, and one day, he was sitting on the beach watching all of these cliques of people socialize and interact. He realized those dynamics felt a lot like ‘Pride and Prejudice.’”
“I’m super excited to share it with the world,” he added.
Ricamora also recently joined forces with actors Kelvin Moon Loh and Jeigh Madjus to develop “No Rice,” a television series based on their collective, real-life experiences.
“It’s about gay Asian best friends who are navigating their own identities while looking for love, sex and acceptance in New York City,” Ricamora said of the project. “We sold it a year ago and will hopefully get it greenlit soon.”
But as he plots his next Hollywood chapter, Ricamora said his “Little Shop of Horrors” experience has reminded him of why he’ll always return to live theater in some capacity.
“Theater gives you a sense of community that no other entertainment medium can provide,” he said. “You can’t get that from watching Netflix or going to a movie theater. Anything can happen on any night, and we get to experience that with the audience in real time. That’s something I took for granted previously but now am relishing so much.”