Riley Thomas’ launch into the world of theater really is something “I blame on my mom,” quipped the actor and writer.
Thomas joked that he caught the acting bug after “my mom bribed me with candy to try out for a play when I was a kid. That was the beginning of it all,” said Thomas, a former River Forest resident who is a graduate of Oak Park-River Forest High School — and the nephew of proud uncle Rick Morrissey, our Sun-Times sports columnist.
That youthful foray into acting led to productions at Oak Park’s Village Players and the Circle Theatre in Forest Park, as well as “a bunch of stuff in school shows,” during his OPRF years.
Now, Thomas’ career is moving in a new direction as his musical “Stuck” — penned a decade ago — has now been turned into a film, starring Giancarlo Esposito, Amy Madigan and Ashanti.
“It’s pretty wild — the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. It’s amazing that this tiny little thing I was writing in my parents’ basement originally became a show in Chicago, went to New York, and now is a movie. It’s literally a dream come true,” said Thomas about the project, originally staged at the La Costa Theater at Montrose and Elston before being featured at the New York Musical Theater Festival and then Off-Broadway.
The film just had its world premiere in California at the Newport Beach Film Festival, and Thomas remains in awe of its cast of well-established actors. Regarding Madigan, Thomas exulted, “There’s nothing like hearing an Oscar nominee singing one of the first songs you’ve literally written,” he added.
Calling from San Antonio, Texas, where he’s currently starring in a children’s theater production called “The Emperor’s New Threads,” Thomas said he was able to spend a number of days watching the filming of his musical in New York — a tale of unrelated and unconnected people who find themselves stranded on a subway train in the Big Apple.
“They shut down one of the express stops in Brooklyn to shoot all the exteriors [for the movie]. One day there were like 750 extras on hand. That was truly humbling and an amazing experience to witness,” said Thomas.
The writer explained that while his show (and now film) “is about people stuck on the subway, there are a couple of themes beyond that. They also are stuck in their lives. In many way, it’s an old story — about different people really sharing many of the same things. They all have different struggles but in the end want the same things. The story underscores various cultural identities and classes of people, but shows that no matter how different we look on the outside, underneath we’re really pretty much the same.”