Nineteen-year-old Ricky Ullman says he is having the time of his life playing Tommy, one of the rowdiest of the street hooligans, the Dead End Kids, in Nicholas Martin's lavish staging of Sidney Kingsley's 1935 classic Dead End at the Ahmanson Theatre. Ullman, who was born in Israel and raised in Connecticut, cut his professional acting teeth at age 8 and has been at it ever since.
He explains, "I did a lot of regional theatre in Stamford, Conn., and some in New York. I was in a national tour of The King and I. I kept acting all the time I was in school. I slowly started doing TV shows and was booked on a show that brought me here to L.A., and I've been doing that ever since." He stars as Phil Duffy in the Disney Channel comedy series, Phil of the Future.
Ullman's role in Dead End marks his first L.A. stage appearance. He had wanted to squeeze a little theatre work into his busy television schedule, and when he heard about this show, he urged his manager and local agents to arrange an audition. He landed the best role among the young boys: a multidimensional character who starts off as a cheeky, playful punk and gets into serious trouble, leading to powerful climactic scenes. "After I got the role and started to realize the importance of what I was becoming a part of, it scared the crap out of me," he says. "But then I became more confident. It certainly helped to be surrounded by 41 dedicated and talented actors." He says he learned a lot—from the relatively inexperienced student actors as well as the accomplished vets such as Joyce Van Patten, Jeremy Sisto, and Tom Everett Scott. "I always learn more by working out scenes in rehearsal than in a class," he adds.
Beyond the angst in this role, the kid in Ullman is quite prominent. He asks, "How many people get to do cannonballs, have fake fights, run up and down huge sets, and go swimming every day at work?" Yet the side of this actor that seems most likely to advance his career is his maturity. He speaks with wisdom and insight far beyond his years, seems refreshingly respectful, and radiates unbridled enthusiasm for his craft. Add to that the tremendous honesty and empathy he brings to this role and one easily reaches the conclusion that he's a rising star.
"Dead End," presented by Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. (Also Sun. 7:30 p.m. Sep. 4-25; Thu. 2 p.m. Sep. 29-Oct. 13. Dark Sun. 2 p.m. Sep. 4 & Wed. 8 p.m. Oct. 5.) Sep. 7-Oct. 16. $15-75. (213) 628-2772.