“I’d finish at 10, get to bed by 11 and repeat,” he says. “It was this weird, split life.”
Delano, 27, worked on and off at WMAL — first as a news desk assistant, then as an on-air reporter — from 2017 through early 2019. Although Delano stepped away from radio after booking a role in a Ford’s Theatre production of “Into the Woods” this past spring, his worlds are colliding once more at Arena Stage, where he plays the villainous Warden Snyder in a production of the journalism-centric musical “Newsies.”
“Weirdly enough, the character I play is one of the few characters who doesn’t actually work for the newspaper,” Delano says. “But it’s poetic, absolutely. Since the moment I left [WMAL], it’s been just new story, new story, new story. So this is kind of a nice, cathartic way of confronting a lot of the current news I think that we’re in.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles County, Delano says he was brought up in an idiosyncratic home environment: His mother works as a professional birthday clown, while his father is an independent movie producer and former rock musician. As Delano gravitated toward acting — sparked by the history-themed musical performances that his fifth-grade teacher assigned — he found that theater gave him a broader understanding of the human condition.
“Everything in my home was extreme and high energy,” Delano says. “Theater became this pathway for me to learn how to be human, in a weird way. It became this integral part of my being.”
Delano was turned down by all 10-plus performing arts programs he applied to as a high school senior. But he spent a year bussing tables and parking cars for a valet service, eventually earning a scholarship to study theater at Texas Christian University. There, he performed in campus productions while also putting his deep, polished speaking voice to work in positions at TCU’s campus radio station and Dallas-Fort Worth station WBAP.
Delano graduated in 2015 and moved to the D.C. area a year later, at which point WBAP’s parent company, Cumulus, found a behind-the-scenes role for him at WMAL. After taking a six-month hiatus from the station to perform in the national tour of the Broadway musical “Amazing Grace,” Delano was offered a chance to return to WMAL as a reporter. Over the following nine months, he provided dispatches on such stories as the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup triumph and the “Unite the Right 2” rally and counterprotest.
“Coming from the theater really helped me because I am finely attuned to narrative,” Delano says of reporting on air. “If you want a through line to my life, it’s that I’ve always been fascinated by communicating big ideas.”
When Delano went to a combined casting call earlier this year for Arena Stage and Arlington’s Signature Theatre, he had his sights set on a role in Signature’s production of “Assassins.” Instead, he happily found himself called back for — and subsequently cast in — the part of “Newsies” antagonist Snyder, the corrupt head of a juvenile detention center called the Refuge.
“He is a complicated character, and what I felt from Wyn was that he had a combination of darkness and lightness in him,” says “Newsies” director Molly Smith. “Wyn finds the comical, the spectacular and the truthful moments of playing a bad guy in this musical.”
“Newsies” premiered on Broadway in 2012, with music by Disney legend Alan Menken and a book by Harvey Fierstein. Although the show is based on the 1992 film, which itself was inspired by the New York City newsboys’ strike of 1899, Smith has crafted Arena’s take on “Newsies” to evoke the headlines of today.
When “Newsies” shows Snyder imprisoning children, Delano senses a parallel between their conditions and the real-life detention camps at the U.S.-Mexico border. He sees the passion of 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg and the Parkland shooting survivors reflected in the show’s message of youth empowerment. The musical’s wider commentary on the responsibility of a free press also resonates more to Delano in the wake of his own journalistic exploits.
“I think, in 2019, during an impeachment inquiry, to come see a show about the power of words and ideas of the press is really quite special,” Delano says. “The words, facts and ideas that happen in the next few weeks and, more importantly, how the media disseminates them and how that influences public opinion, can literally change the course of this nation. And I think that’s what this whole show is about.”