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November 10, 2011

Ron Raines, the dark sun of the Follies solar system

by Jesse North
ron raines follies broadway revival

Photo: Joan Marcus

In this season’s hit revival of Follies, Ron Raines plays the sun in which all orbiting characters collide. As Ben Stone, one

fourth of two married couples crumbling under the reminiscence of a showgirl reunion at a Vaudevillian theater about to be demolished, he holds the fates of everyone in his hands. Will he stay with his wife, Phyllis (Jan Maxwell) or choose his old flame, Sally (Bernadette Peters)? Raines, previously of the long-running soap opera Guiding Light, sat down with Stage Rush to discuss what it’s like to hold all the cards as Ben, Maxwell’s recent traffic accident, and the upcoming cast recording.


How did the recording of the cast album go?
It was terrific. The thing is, we did it on our days off, so we were kind of exhausted. You just click in your head that you’ve got to do it. Of course, you do nothing else [prior to the recording]. That dinner that you usually have with someone Sunday night; you go home instead.

Can you give us a sneak peek at the recording? What can we expect?
I hear there’s a lot more dialogue and story connection. Some of the numbers are really set up. They come out of the scene; which is good, I hope. They tried to connect the numbers with more dialogue, more story.

How did you find out Jan Maxwell had been in a car accident between shows on October 29?
I was sitting right there, reclined. [Points to dressing room lounge chair] My dresser, Danny, said that she had been hit by a car. Immediately, you hear, ‘Hit by a car!’ But he said she was aright, that she was upstairs with the physical therapist. So I knew she wasn’t dead! I knew they didn’t haul her off in an ambulance. They said everything’s alright, whatever that is.

How did the cast react, as a whole?
When we all found out about it, we were genuinely concerned about Jan. Everyone really rallied around her understudy, who was literally being pushed onto the stage, without any rehearsal. In those kinds of moments, you really find out the integrity of the company you’re in.

Early in the show’s previews, Follies was performed without an intermission. Did you enjoy that style or was it exhausting?
I don’t think we were as exhausted as the audience was. We got out earlier. The show is paced, but by the time we got to the “Loveland” sequence, the audience members that were fanatics loved it without the intermission. But the general public, who didn’t know, they were like, ‘We need a break.’ The audience just needed that respite with an intermission. It was fine for me.

VIDEO: Ron Raines on the time Stephen Sondheim came knocking on his door.

So much of the attention goes to the roles of Sally and Phyllis, because of their flashy numbers, but Ben is the center of the story.
It is Ben’s story. Ben’s the rock. He’s screwed up everybody’s lives. It took me a long time to find him in the show. To really get into his skin, with these lines, took me a long time.

What’s the rawest moment in the show for you?
When Ben comes to the realization, ‘I’m nothing.’ It really happens right before Phyllis’s song [“Could I Leave You”]. ‘There’s nothing in my life, there’s nothing. And that’s killing me.’ That’s something he’s never… he’s already made the journey from, Ben Stone! To get to there, that’s the first real crack.

What is your take on your character after the curtain comes down? What happens to Ben and Phyllis when they get home?
We don’t know if this marriage is going to make it or not. It’s 1971. They’d have to go through marriage counseling. Counseling was, if you did that, you were kind of crazy. It wasn’t like it is now. For him and that marriage to work, these people have a lot of work to do. As do Buddy and Sally. And whether Ben wants to, whether she wants to. He may want to, she may not. She may want to, he may not. Who knows? That’s what leaves you out there.

What scene are you most likely to watch when you’re in the wings?
I love listening to “I’m Still Here,” because I’m always in the wings waiting to go on. I could be in my dressing room, but I like listening to it in the wings. I love “The Right Girl.” I listen to that every night.

What’s backstage life like here at the Marquis Theatre? What would I see if I were a fly on the wall?
We don’t usually see each other. When the show gets going, everyone gets into their own backstage choreography. You see the same people because you exit and there’s a dancer getting ready to get into place. If there’s a dancer that’s getting ready to go on in another place, you never see that person. There’s one girl in the cast that I joke with, I say, ‘I never see you! You’re in the show? Wow!’ There’s one girl I pass all the time. There’s a whole bunch of backstage choreography.

Guiding Light ended in 2009; you were on the show since 1994. Now you’re doing Follies on Broadway. How do you feel about this time in your life?
I think it’s great. It’s just a wonderful surprise. We were all thrilled to be doing it at the Kennedy Center. We were under the original assumption it was a five-week run. Wow! That was great; we were not expecting this. It’s always funny when you don’t expect something. It kind of took on its own life, as this work does.

What do you think of Ron Raines performance in Follies, Rushers? What do you think is his best moment as Ben Stone? Does his description of backstage life surprise you? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and tune into this week’s episode of Stage Rush TV for bonus footage of Raines!

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