I went to see Stephen Sondheim's legendary show Follies last week which was in the last week of its New York run (it closed on Sunday and is moving to Los Angeles). Among the many luminaries in the cast was Ron Raines. As fate would have it, I went to see my barber yesterday and who was in the chair ahead of me? None other than Mr. Raines. Introductions were made and it was a pleasure to shake his hand and tell him how much I enjoyed his performance. He's fantastic.
Ron Raines has been hitting it out of the park eight shows a week, singing and acting with such authenticity that it makes your heart ache. In the character of Benjamin Stone, Raines swaggers in at the beginning of Act 1, bluster and bitterness on his breath. But by the end of Act 2, when sitting in a puddle of confetti on the floor, Raines as Ben has burned his way into your consciousness. You know this man, especially if you are over 40, Raines making you feel underneath Ben's hard shell. No smoke and mirrors here. How does he do it? With his voice, of course. Rains has real technique, vocal and otherwise, which serve the story.
In an interview between Raines and his co-star Elaine Page at the American Theatre Wing's website (which you can listen to the full interview here), Page asks Raines about the difference between singing opera and theatre, which, coincidentally, both have done at New York City Opera: Page in Sweeny Todd and Raines in The Merry Widow and New Moon.
Page: "Is there a difference, you know, in terms of the art of it?"
Rains: "Not for me. I keep trying to learn how to sing and tell a story."
Page then goes on to relate how Sondheim wants singers to sing, not talk his songs.
"I want you to sing it!" - Stephen Sondheim
Aside from the 'how-much-tone-should-one-make-in-the-theatre-when-singing' matter, it's the "keep trying to learn how to sing and tell a story" thought that interests me. Mr. Raines shows every evidence of doing just that. (Listen to him here.)
Technique isn't something you can buy like a carton of milk on the corner. It isn't a product. It's an art and a craft- a way of life. Yes. You need someone to show you the 'how' of it. But the teacher also needs a great student, someone who does more than stand there, waiting for fame and fortune to come with no effort involved. The truth is: the really great performers never stop learning. And Ron Raines hasn't.
Don't miss this consummate artist in Los Angeles.