Ron Raines has been a musical theater stalwart for more than 30 years, playing such iconic roles as Gaylord Ravenal in Show Boat, Frederik Egerman in A Little Night Music, and Ben Stone in Follies, for which he received a 2012 Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. If that wasn't enough adulation, he was known to millions of television viewers for over 15 years as the dastardly Alan Spaulding on the CBS daytime drama Guiding Light.
Earlier this month, he added another rich meanie to his resume: ruthless newspaper mogul Joseph Pulitzer in the award-winning Broadway musical Newsies at the Nederlander Theater. TheaterMania recently spoke to Raines about working with such a young cast, why he loves playing the bad guy, and getting words of wisdom from Stephen Sondheim.
What's it like to work with all these young people on Newsies?
There are two different kinds of young kids right now. There are really entitled, arrogant kids that have a real attitude. And then there are these kids. When they show up, they work their butts off and give 110%. Of course, they're all 17, 18, 19. They've got all this energy. And of course, they're part of a very well-structured, very entertaining family show that the audience eats up every night.
What did you think about Newsies when you first saw it?
I watched the show and was just blown away by it. And I immediately loved the role of Joseph Pulitzer because he doesn't carry the show. He just has three or four juicy scenes.
And you like playing the bad guy?
Yes. Everybody hates him, they talk about him all the time, and he's just waiting to slink back on stage. But when he's on stage, his presence is known, and I love that about him. When I was young, I played all these romantic leads and they were fun, but I much prefer to be the villain now.
Did you see the similarities between Alan Spaulding and Joseph Pulitzer?
Yes, and I think I've brought a bit of the mean Alan to the role. To me, they're the same guys -- moguls who can manipulate and are controlling. Like Alan, Pulitzer is not stupid and he doesn't suffer fools gladly.
And like Alan, Pulitzer also has a difficult relationship with his children – in this case, his daughter Katherine, right?
True, but their relationship isn't really developed. You can only develop so many relationships in two hours and 10 minutes. Still, Kara Lindsay and I tried to find some of our own little colors. When I'm telling Jack Kelly "I trust you met my daughter Katherine," I know that you're probably asking yourself "Why is she using that nom de plume? Why doesn't my daughter work for me?" We kind of make that a moment. In some ways, I think my 15 years on Guiding Light was preparing me for playing Joseph Pulitzer.
What was it like doing Follies and Newsies in the same year?
After Follies was over, I was artistically and emotionally and physically exhausted; my body was almost crippled. But I was also on such a full artistic high that I really wasn't in a hurry to work again, because I wanted to enjoy that sensation.
Was Stephen Sondheim big on giving you notes during the rehearsals for Follies?
No, and when he did he always went through the director, Eric Schaeffer. But If I ever got a note from him, I was so grateful, because he gave great notes. He just would say one or two words and it would be enough that you would get it. He's that concise and precise. For example, he gave me a great insight into "The Road You Didn't Take." I had trouble with that song at the beginning. He told me "Basically you're lying; you think about the road you didn't take all the time." That did it!
Do you think Pulitzer thinks about the road he didn't take?
No, he took the right road.
What would be the road you didn't take?
My wife and I have talked about that a lot. I took the road I was gonna take. I got off the road a couple of times but I got back on the road. And I was lucky. A lot of people get off the road and they can't get back to the road. That's what happened to the people in Follies. They thought they were doing something right and became more and more lost, unable to get back to whatever road they were on.
Did you think you wouldn't get back on the road to theater when you took the gig on Guiding Light?
No. If you saw my dressing room at Guiding Light, you know I could've cleaned it out in an hour. Some of those people -- it was like their apartment in their dressing rooms. And I would say to them, "Look, I'm from the theater, the show always closes and you have to be ready to move on to the next show." But I was surprised and delighted I had that long a run with such a historical show.
You've been in the business for over four decades now. What's the survival trick?
Always keeping up your instrument and always going with the flow. Knowing that a door keeps shutting over there for a reason, but there's a door open over here, so maybe I should go through that door and explore the other side. The thing that concerns me about the kids in these megahits that run forever is that eight years later they've done only one show. I think they need to stretch!