TV, Broadway star Ron Raines to lead cast of Amarillo Opera's 'Man of La Mancha'
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By Chip Chandler — Producer
TV and Broadway vet Ron Raines has played the starry-eyed lead roles in the musical Man of La Mancha only a handful of times, but Don Quixote has a way of lingering.
Like a dream, perhaps?
"I've had a long history (with the role), but I haven't done the role as much as I have wanted to," Raines said in an interview from the Panhandle PBS studios (watch it here). "But the role stays with you."
Of course it does. One of the most beloved of Broadway musicals (last staged in Amarillo in 2003 by Amarillo Little Theatre), Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion's adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes' early 17th century masterpiece The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha was a hit when it premiered in 1965 with Richard Kiley in the dual lead role of Cervantes and Quixote. (He was so indelibly linked to the role that he brought it back in Broadway revivals in 1972 and 1977.)
Cervantes tells the story of the supposedly mad knight Quixote (who, you may have heard, is always chasing after windmills) as a play-within-a-play, co-opting his fellow prisoners to tell the story as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition.
Even many of those who don't know the whole show have at least passing familiarity with Quixote's impassioned, inspirational ballad "The Impossible Dream," which the New York Times' Ben Brantley once called "one of the most pervasive anthems of uplift in showbiz history."
Now, thanks to a years-long acquaintance with Amarillo Opera general director David O'Dell, Raines will perform the roles on stage again in the opera company's staging of the musical.
O'Dell met Raines through the latter's wife, Dona D. Vaughn, artistic director of opera at Manhattan School of Music and artistic director of PORTopera in Portland, Maine, and has long tried to get the Nacogdoches native to perform in Amarillo.
Finally, as Raines was wrapping up a 2015 performance of La Mancha in Pittsburgh, O'Dell got lucky.
"He said the only thing that would get him to come back (to Texas for an extended run) was if Man of La Mancha was on our radar," O'Dell said. "So it was very immediately on our radar."
Raines is one of the more high-profile guest artists Amarillo Opera has ever attracted. Though he's perhaps best known as the dastardly Alan Spaulding on Guiding Light, which he played from 1994 until the long-running soap opera's cancellation in 2009, he has a long history in musical theater and opera.
He has starred in Broadway productions of Annie, Newsies, Chicago and Show Boat, scoring a Tony nomination for the 2011 revival of Follies opposite Bernadette Peters. In 1990, he joined the national tour of The Unsinkable Molly Brown opposite Debbie Reynolds. He has performed with more than 50 orchestras across the country, in several operas and has appeared on four PBS Great Performances specials.
"He is regarded in New York, among younger singers, as an icon and a role model," O'Dell said. "In the opera world, the voice usually begins to wane in your 50s, but Ron Raines is singing better today (at age 68) than ever."
His co-stars in the Amarillo production are impressed.
"I'm so excited to work with Ron," said Mikki Sodergren, who plays Aldonza, a serving wench and prostitute, and (in Quixote's deluded mind), his beloved Dulcinea. "It's an all-encompassing performance he's giving."
It's a passion project, Raines said.
"I forgot how much I loved the show and loved the role," Raines said. "I'm at a stage of my life where I want to do what I want to do — and can, knock on wood.
"It all began for me in Texas and it's a wonderful role in a wonderful show that's so timely right now," he continued. "The message of the show speaks very loud right now."
What's that message?
"I think it's the message of hope ... to not take life as it is but as it should be, to always dream," Raines said. "Here we are (in the show) in a prison during the Spanish Inquisition, a terrible time.
"I think the message of hope never ends."