Lorain Co. native turns star
Actor John Riddle reflects on starring role as Hans in “Frozen” on Broadway
“Broadway is always my home; it will always be my number one passion,” he said. Riddle said his career in music and theater began when he was about five years old, when his parents, Heidi and John Riddle, put he and his sister Megan in piano lessons in Oberlin. “I took them every week, from five years old to high school,”
John Riddle may take one of the biggest stages in the world almost every night, but he still brings his small town mentality with him to every performance. Born and raised in Vermilion, Riddle, 29, followed his passion for theater all the way to the Big Apple, now starring as Hans in the Broadway show “Frozen.” Riddle said. “I was always immersed in that music world through Oberlin.” Additionally, he also became involved with the Oberlin Choristers, a traveling children’s choir and eventually the BGSU Firelands College Theatre in Huron and working at the Huron Playhouse during the summer.
“He loved to act out with any sort of musical movies,” said Heidi Riddle, 63, on her son’s budding passion in theater. “Whether it was ‘Mary Poppins’ or ‘The Little Mermaid,’ he would sing along, dress up, act as the characters. That’s when we knew.” However, Riddle said he didn’t officially “catch the theater bug” until seeing a production of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ ‘in Toronto when he was five. “I was just mesmerized,” he said. “My dad said I sat there for all three hours of the show and didn’t say a word. When we were walking out, I was retelling all the parts of the show and even my dad was like, ‘I didn’t even see half of that stuff.’” From then on, Riddle continued with music lessons, but dropped theater in middle school to pursue soccer and basketball.
Passion for theater
While at Vermilion High School, Riddle said he became more involved in the school’s theater through the show choir, which put on a fall and winter play, as well as a spring musical. “I was actually planning on being an architect (in the beginning of high school),” he said. “Being an actor, it didn’t really feel like something that was feasible.” It wasn’t until his sophomore year when he landed a couple gigs with the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood that he seriously picked up theater again. Upon graduating from Vermilion High, Riddle attended the Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he graduated in 2012. “When he decided to go to Cincinnati, he said, ‘Mom, I have to follow my passion, and my passion is music theater,’” Heidi Riddle said. During his time at the University of Cincinnati, Riddle said he was able to work at The Muny in St. Louis during the summers in its ensemble, which allowed him some time to network. “They bring in lots of Broadway talent and directors, so I was surrounded by big-name artists,” Riddle said.
After graduation, Riddle hired an agent and immediately moved to New York, working as a sailing instructor for the first 10 months before he landed a gig. He said he was lucky to find work that he enjoyed while doing auditions, since his family were big sailboat racers. Evidently enough, his first audition out of college was for the Broadway production of “Phantom of the Opera,” Riddle said. After landing a part in the seven-month national tour of “Evita” in 2013 and playing in the Kennedy Center’s production of “Little Dancer” out of Washington, D.C., Riddle landed his first Broadway show, “The Visit” in 2015, playing the role of Young Anton. “It was this incredible experience, working with some of the legends on Broadway, like Fred Ebb, who wrote music for ‘Chicago,’” he said, adding it was his favorite show he ever performed in. “I was working with the greats right off the back. “I was one of the youngest in the cast. I just learned so much about the legacy of the theater, showing up and doing all eight shows like it’s the first time you’ve ever done it, the pride they bring to what they do. “This is an old art form, living on through the people who have carried the torch.” Now, Riddle has played Hans in the Broadway production “Frozen” since it premiered in March 2018. Heidi Riddle said the whole family of 24 showed up to the premier of the show.
“It’s one of those things that are hard to describe,” she said. “Just one of those once in a lifetime things.” A work schedule on Broadway is grueling, working eight shows in six days, he said. “It’s a long, long week,” Riddle said. With his Broadway contract expiring in a few short weeks, Riddle said he’s looking to pursue work in television as a break from the Broadway schedule. He said what gets him through each week, however, he learned in small town Vermilion, when his parents urged him to go to school and perform well, even when sick. “I think that’s really served my profession well,” Riddle said. “You just gotta show up. My parents really instilled that in me and that work ethic is so important. “As an actor, it’s not an easy profession. There’s a lot of heartbreak and rejection. The highs are really high and the lows are really low. “But I have to work through all of that, facing rejection and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and meeting the demands of your work.”
Patti Murin, left, and Riddle in the Broadway show “Frozen.”