BWW Interviews: Glen Rainey, Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls at Atlanta¬'s Fox Theatre, August 16 -21
It is hard to find any theater-goer out there who isn't familiar with Frank Loesser and Jo Swerling's masterpiece of musical comedy, Guys and Dolls. When those storied gangsters from the classic musical "roll" into town at the Fox on August 16, joining them will be Atlanta native and favorite, Glen Rainey. I had the chance to talk with Glen about his career, his character and being a part of this production. Overall, I believe the interview went "Nicely Nicely, thank you." You be the judge.
BWW: Glen, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I am excited to hear about the show and I know our readers will be too. We are really looking forward to Guys and Dolls in Atlanta!
Glen Rainey: Me too. I am so excited we are bringing it back here to Atlanta.
I thought we would start with talking a little bit about your career, especially considering how you got started in the business. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Well, I started doing community theatre here in Atlanta and moved into professional theatre about 25 – 27 years ago - I got my Equity card about 25 years ago at Theatre Emory. I continued to do more professional theatre here until '98 when I moved to New York and then booked the first national tour of Beauty and the Beast, I did that for a year and then moved into the Broadway company. So my professional theatre career started here in Atlanta, and along the way I have often worked a full time day job as well.
And you went my Alma Mater, The University of Georgia.
I did. I studied Advertising and PR and I worked in the graphics part of Advertising for a number of years. I even worked for Kmart for a short time in their Ad department. I ended up working for a communications consulting company called Speakeasy, and even worked for the Parole Board for a number of years. I have done it all! I started out at UGA as a secondary English Ed major and after I did my teacher observation I decided that I didn't want to be a teacher!
Did you always want to be a performer?
I was in the band in High School up until my junior year, and one of our teachers who sponsored the Drama Club, Claudette Sides, she encouraged me and I started doing plays and won awards and that was fun. I did community theatre here in my hometown of Newnan, GA before I got out of high school and I really took to it and loved it. My first professional show here in Atlanta was with the Southeastern Savoyards (now the Atlanta Lyric Theatre) and I played Chorus Boy #3 in The Mikado at Center Stage.
Did you perform in college?
No, not at all. Unless you were a theatre major it was hard to get cast in things. Shortly after graduating from high school I did an outdoor drama down here in Peachtree City called The McIntosh Trail, that only lasted one season. I was hired as an ensemble member, but I met a lot of theatre grad students from UGA, so I was always connected to the program, but not directly involved.
Have you ever performed in Guys and Dolls or is this the first time?
I have never done the show before. Oddly it is a show most people do in high school, but I was familiar with it, I saw the '94 revival and had a number of friends in that production. I have sung "Sit Down You're Rockin the Boat" for auditions before, but have never done a full production until now. I am having the time of my life. Our company, cast, and crew are just amazing and so supportive. To be around that company and doing such a great show with such a great character it is really ideal.
Let's talk about this production. It is a limited engagement tour, correct?
It is. We teched the show in Fayetteville, Arkansas and opened in Kansas City at the Starlight, which is outside, in 102 degree weather. The audiences were great but it was so hot! We went to Dallas for two weeks and then to Wolf Trap and then are in Atlanta on the 16th at the Fox.
Let's talk about your character, Nicely Nicely. Is playing him unique for you, or was he similar to characters you have played in the past?
I certainly have played similar characters, I played one of the gangsters in Kiss Me Kate at the Aurora Theatre, so I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do with the character. The best thing about it is the script. You don't have to tamper with it. The character is very loveable and one likes to think that they are loveable so I hope I bring a bit of myself to him. But the script is so beautifully written and so funny, so it is not very hard to portray Nicely-Nicely.
So, what part of playing this role do you like the most? What do you look forward to the most each night?
I have had a great experience working with Steve Rosen who plays Nathan. We had done a few readings together in New York in the past. And Garth Kravits who plays Benny, and is such an amazing and sweet, giving performer, so working with them has been such a great experience because of the relationship that we have offstage as well as onstage. It is very positive and that makes a world of difference, particularly when you are on stage a lot of the time together and playing off each other.
What is it about Guys and Dolls that you think has kept it fresh and popular for so long?
Again, I would have to go back to the piece itself, the book, and the music. There are at least six or seven songs that most people will recognize. It is the simplicity of it and the wonderful nature of the comedy, with characters that people can identify with. It survives because of the nature of the way it was written, Frank Loesser and Jo Swerling and the creative team behind it. It is pretty hard to beat Frank Loesser as far as telling a story. The music stands the test of time. Many of the songs became pop songs at the time which is a testament to how popular it was and still is today.
So have you ever performed at the Fox?
Yes, I have been working with Theater of the Stars for over 20 years, but it is always nice to come back. It is such an amazing space and Atlanta audiences are so supportive and loving. I am thrilled that we are bringing it back here. It is a theater that everyone should experience.
As an Atlanta native, I can imagine that it has to be a unique thrill to get to perform at the Fox, considering you probably saw shows here growing up?
Absolutely. I remember seeing shows there as a kid and going to see films there, hearing the Mighty Mo. Growing up seeing shows and concerts there. The first show I did with Theater of the Stars was Annie and I remember getting into the theatre and walking out there and being overwhelmed by the memories of being there as a child and to go out there, it was pretty awesome.
Do you have a favorite role you have played? Favorite show?
This time last year I did Hairspray at the Atlanta Lyric Theatre and it was a wonderful experience to be able to play Edna in that production. Soon after I had a chance to play Uncle Winston in A Catered Affair at the Aurora Theatre and we got John Bucchino to come see the show, and Harvey Fierstein came to see it as well. Last year was so amazing in terms of those two roles.
So what's next for you after Guys and Dolls?
The next show I am doing is a play and it is called Gray Area at the Aurora Theatre. It is written by my friend John Ahlin and will be directed by Sherri Sutton and I play a theatre critic, so that is going to be lots of fun.
Glen, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
No, just that I hope people come see the show. It is a beautiful production and I think they will have a wonderful time. We appreciate people supporting live theatre!
Theater of the Stars presents GUYS AND DOLLS at the Fox Theatre at 660 Peachtree Street, NW for eight performances from Tuesday, August 16 through Sunday, August 21. Tickets range from $25-$65 and are on sale now at www.theaterofthestars.com. Discounted group tickets for 15 or more can be purchased by calling 404-881-2000 or online at www.foxtheatre.org/groupsales.aspx.