Ron Raines has portrayed his share of dark, some might say, evil characters: Joseph Pulitzer in the current Broadway musical “Newsies” and Alan Spaulding on the soap opera “Guiding Light.” There have also been a few roles with noticeable character flaws: Billy Bigelow in “Carousel” and Gaylord Ravenal in “Show Boat.”
But in person, Raines is among the nicest, most down-to-earth guys you could meet. After a 38-year absence, the Oklahoma City University grad returned to the Sooner State to help Canterbury Choral Society kick off its 2012-13 season with the aptly-titled “Broadway to Bricktown” concert.
Raines has enjoyed a celebrated career playing musical theater leading men, from Johnny Brown in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and Petruchio in “Kiss Me, Kate” to Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha” and Benjamin Stone in “Follies,” in which he was nominated for a Tony Award.
To those who have followed his career, such a distinction comes as no surprise. With Raines, one gets a glorious baritone that he shades according to the needs of the character, an actor capable of keeping an audience riveted, and a good-natured swagger that likely emerges from his Texas upbringing.
All three came together in “Luck Be a Lady,” Sky Masterson's confidence-exuding desire to win a crap game in “Guys and Dolls,” and in “All I Care About,” Billy Flynn's egocentric but suave declaration from “Chicago.”
More impressive still were “Her Face,” a little-known gem “Carnival” in which a puppeteer sings about his obsession for a character named Lili; “Anthem,” an impassioned expression of a Russian champion's love for his country in the musical “Chess,” and Raines' signature tune, the soaring ballad “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha.”
In all three, Raines demonstrated what can happen when intelligence, passion, expressive vocal control and a keen understanding of characterization combine to create show-stopping numbers that no longer need the trappings of the musicals that produced them.
Conductor Randi Von Ellefson, the Canterbury singers and the Oklahoma City Philharmonic also lent fine support to Raines in medleys by George Gershwin and Cole Porter.
The program opened with an appropriate commentary on what lay in store, Rodgers and Hammerstein's “A Grand Night for Singing,” while in the second half opener, a medley from “The Music Man,” the singers captured the various moods of Meredith Willson's score convincingly, particularly so in the rousing “76 Trombones.”
“I Enjoy Being a Girl” seemed like an odd choice for the women's chorus considering it is sung as a solo in “Flower Drum Song,” while the men's “Standing On the Corner,” from “The Most Happy Fella,” would have benefitted from a more unbuttoned approach.
Amplification imbalances rendered the lyrics of the “Jekyll & Hyde” standard “This Is the Moment” unintelligible although the quieter “In the Beginning” from “Children of Eden” was quite evocative.
Canterbury brought the evening to a close with the hauntingly beautiful “Sunday” from “Sunday in the Park With George.” For a brief moment, it seemed like there might be an encore but one never materialized.
With Kelli O'Hara and Raines having been pressed into service for these well-received “Broadway to Bricktown” performances, one hopes Ellefson and Canterbury will make this a recurring event during future seasons.
— Rick Rogers