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Musical theater and soap opera star Ron Raines visits Chicago. logo
Ron Raines
"It feels fabulous to be back on Broadway!" exclaims Ron Raines, the latest Billy Flynn in the long-running revival of Chicago. Though Raines' résumé of musical theater roles is lengthy, it includes only two previous Main Stem appearances: as Gaylord Ravenal in the 1983 Houston Grand Opera production of Show Boat and as Nick Longworth in 1987's Teddy and Alice.

Now he's having fun with Flynn, the "Razzle Dazzle" mouthpiece who boasts that "If Jesus Christ had lived in Chicago today--and if he had five thousand dollars--things would have turned out differently." Notes Raines, "I've always wanted to do the role. I auditioned about a year ago and it almost worked out. They called with the offer a couple of weeks ago and, this time, it did work out. It's all happened very fast." On March 26, he joined the current cast, including Denise Van Outen (Roxie), Deidre Goodwin (Velma), P.J. Benjamin (Amos), Alix Korey (Mama Morton), and R. Bean (Mary Sunshine).

Raines saw the Encores! production of Chicago that preceded the Broadway engagement and has since seen the show a few times at the Shubert Theatre. "I had some friends go into it," he tells me, "and I went to see them: Brent [Barrett] and Greg Jbara, to name two."

Rehearsing separately with the dance captain and the stage manager, Raines learned the blocking and choreography. "That's the way it is for everyone taking over a role," he says. "You don't work with the cast until the afternoon of the night you start; they have what they call a 'put-in.' But I come with an understanding of how that works because I did theater for 19 years before I got into daytime TV, so I know the territory. It takes time to get your pacing. I consider the first week of performances to be previews." Raines has played Alan Spaulding on the soap opera The Guiding Light since 1994 and feels that "The role is very similar to Billy Flynn: Both men have a powerful presence and they're both manipulative."

During his turn as Billy, Raines will be working on both sides of town: "We shoot [The Guiding Light] on East 44th Street and the Shubert is on West 44th. It's going to really challenge me physically to do both things at the same time. Doing eight shows is a challenge in itself. When you're shooting three days a week and going to the theater at night, those are very, very long days! You have to pace yourself because the required energies are different. I'm usually at the studio around 7am; with Chicago, I won't be in bed until midnight. But I'm only in the show until May 19, so I figure I can be a monk and have no life--just do these two things--for a short time."

The actor says he wanted to work in daytime television "because that would keep me home. If I got established, then I could choose what theater projects I wanted to do. I was not on Broadway in the '90s, and the '80s were the years of the British mega-musicals. There was not much for me during that period, so I committed myself to learning the TV medium. The Guiding Light is as steady as a job gets, and while I'm doing that I've done Great Performances [for PBS-TV] and a lot of concerts and recordings. It's been kind of the CD-period of my career, recording lead roles in Man of La Mancha, Pajama Game, Wonderful Town, Guys and Dolls, 110 in the Shade, and One Touch of Venus. I also have a solo CD, Ron Raines: Broadway Passion." (Note to consumers: All of these albums are available on the JAY label.)

Looking back on his Broadway experiences, Raines fondly recalls Show Boat. "I love that show," he enthuses. "The music is magnificent and Gaylord is one of my favorite roles." The 1983 production had Donald O'Connor as Cap'n Andy, a part filled by Eddie Bracken when Raines most recently portrayed Ravenal in Detroit about ten years ago. Raines believes that Teddy and Alice, which starred Len Cariou as Teddy Roosevelt, "would probably be a big hit now. It has a lot of Americana in it. That's kind of 'in' again, but it didn't work back when the show opened."

The oldest of three siblings, Raines was born in Texas City, Texas. "My father was a minister when I was growing up," he tells me. "When I got into college, he became a municipal judge in a town called Nacogdoches [Texas]. That's pretty much what I consider my home. I did Oklahoma! there; I played Curly in my senior year in high school and I got the bug. Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Hammerstein have paid my rent many, many, many times down through the years. In May, I'm doing a tribute to Richard Rodgers with the Boston Pops. It'll be on PBS."

Raines is equally comfortable in musicals and operettas; his many credits include Kiss Me, Kate, Follies, A Little Night Music, South Pacific, The King and I, Rose Marie, The New Moon, Desert Song, and The Merry Widow. "I was always challenged by Billy Bigelow [in Carousel," he says. "Billy's a troubled guy. I've never played the captain in The Sound of Music; I was supposed to go on tour with Marie Osmond in that show but the offer came in the same day as The Guiding Light. I chose to stay at home, partly because I didn't want to miss my daughter's birthdays. Charlotte is 13 now."

It was in a 1981 production of Rose Marie that Raines met his wife, director Dona D. Vaughn. "She played the villainess," he says. "We got together about two years later and were married about two years after that. Dona was in the original cast of Company [as a member of the Vocal Minority and understudy for the roles of Amy and Sarah]. Hers is the first voice you hear on the CD: 'Bobby, Bobby...' She was also in Jesus Christ Superstar and Seesaw--and, while she was doing those shows, she was getting a masters in theater from Hunter College.

"When Dona first came to New York," Raines relates, "a friend encouraged her to try out for Company. Dona didn't know who Stephen Sondheim or Michael Bennett were--she didn't know who anyone was--and she got it. They offered her the part and she said, 'I have to call my fiancé.' She was supposed to go back to Florida to get married; they had the church reserved. Her fiancé told her, 'Honey, stay up there and get it out of your system.' And, a few decades later, it worked out well for me!"

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