About the Author:
He began his career as a classical singer, but Ron Raines soon found that his voice—and, he says, his temperament—was more suited to the musical theater. He starred in a 1983 revival of Show Boat on Broadway, where he also appeared in the short-lived musical Teddy & Alice and played Billy Flynn in Chicago. You’ll find regional productions of classics like South Pacific, Kiss Me Kate, Can-Can, The King and I, Brigadoon, Oklahoma!, Carousel, Guys and Dolls, A Little Night Music, Kismet and Man of La Mancha on Raines’ resume, which also includes his 15-year stint as nefarious Alan Spaulding on the soap opera Guiding Light. The three-time Emmy-nominated villain never stopped singing, including performances with more than 50 symphony orchestras. Below, Raines reflects on his role as aging heartthrob Ben Stone in that most reflective of musicals, Follies, and the fantastic onstage foursome of which he is a part at Broadway's Marquis Theatre.
In 1988, I performed the role of Ben Stone in Follies with Michigan Opera Theater. I was too young at that time to fully understand Ben's character, but the role has haunted me ever since. I became very curious about Ben, and looked forward to the opportunity to do it again when I was more mature. I was thrilled to become a part of the Kennedy Center production. As my own journey in life has continued, the role of Ben has become much clearer to me. Ben, Phyllis, Sally and Buddy are characters stripped to the bone. They are essences of who these people really are. They’re bloodless, these essences, and that’s why James Goldman’s dialogue is at times poetic as opposed to naturalistic.
I have known many parts of Ben in other people. Sadly, there are too many people like Ben, Sally, Phyllis and Buddy out there in the midst of unhappy marriages. These characters are part of many real situations in life. That’s the power in the experience of Follies.
Follies hits everyone differently. It shows us what could hapen. The characters' lives are the results of choices made...the roads they didn't take. I know that Follies stirs things up. It is a confrontation between choices and their consequences.
One of the challenges for me right now is doing eight shows a week. Stephen Sondheim is a composer and lyricist whose work demands that you show up at each performance. I have to be at the top of my form because there are so many emotional changes that Ben goes through during each performance. Of course, working with Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell and Danny Burstein eases the way throughout the journey. Even though the stage is filled with legends—Elaine Paige, Susan Watson, Terri White, Rosalind Elias—there is a wonderful sense of ensemble in the production. It's an honor to be onstage with these survivors and fantastic performers. There are all these actors in the room with incredible careers, and yet everybody is genuinely thrilled to be a part of the event. With 41 people on the stage, it is amazing that [director] Eric Schaeffer has created such an intimate family feeling.
It is a joy that we're using full orchestration for this production. We have a 28-piece orchestra in the pit, which is unheard of on Broadway these days. I remember the first day in Washington when we heard that sound. The orchestra played that first chord of Jonathan Tunick's incredible orchestrations, and everyone burst into applause. What a joy for me to hear "In Buddy's Eyes" sung by Bernadette Peters while I'm standing right beside her on the stage every night. Here I am, working on Broadway with Bernadette, Jan and Danny in a Sondheim show. It's a dream come true for me.