Glenn Rainey doesn’t want to take it for granted, but the openly gay performer has been on a hot streak of late. On the heels of several high-profile local projects, he is starring in a touring version of “Guys and Dolls,” opening shortly in Atlanta by virtue of Theater of the Stars.
Considered one of the classic musicals, “Guys and Dolls” takes place in a Damon Runyon-esque New York City, full of criminals and gamblers, where infamous Nathan Detroit is running an illegal crap game but is being coaxed to leave the business by long-time girlfriend (and nightclub singer) Miss Adelaide. Rainey stars as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, who, with friend Benny Southstreet, works for Detroit. The actor compares Nicely-Nicely and Benny to Heckle and Jeckle and Laurel and Hardy.
When Rainey heard that there was going to be an upcoming national tour of the musical, he quickly went about looking into it. He was asked to come to New York to audition but couldn’t, so he sent in two audition tapes to the casting director. He was hired by virtue of those two tapes.
According to the performer, “Guys and Dolls” holds the test of time.
“When you have music and lyrics like this and a show that is so character driven, it’s timeless,” Rainey says. “There are so many recognizable songs in this musical.”
With lyrics by Frank Loesser, “Guys and Dolls” opened in 1950 and virtually swept the Tony Awards the next year. Although there was a film version with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, Rainey thinks the stage musical is the definitive version.
“It’s much more realized than the film version,” he says.
Ironically, for a show that is considered such a crowd-pleaser, it hasn’t been produced locally in some time.
Although this is Rainey’s first stint in “Guys and Dolls,” he admits he has been performing some of the music since he first heard it.
“I was singing ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat’ since I was really young,” he laughs.
Besides being a classic musical, he says gay audiences can expect “flashy costumes, terrific choreography and great songs sung by great looking guys and dolls” from the production.
Rainey has a long history with Theater of the Stars. He has worked with them on a number of occasions on and off for about 20 years. Most recently he was in their version of “Oklahoma!” He is effusive in his praise for Theater of the Star’s artistic director Chris Manos and his commitment to bring Broadway musicals to town.
After beginning his professional acting career in Atlanta, Rainey moved to New York in 1999 where he was part of “Beauty and the Beast” for several years, both on Broadway and on the national tour. He got to perform as the Bookseller, Monsieur D’Arque, Cogsworth and Maurice during that run. And 2004 turned out to be a huge year for him — he debuted in New York with his one-man show “Blue-Eyed Soul” and also recorded with Clay Aiken on Aiken’s “Merry Christmas with Love” CD.
A few years later, though, Rainey decided to move back to Atlanta. It didn’t take him long to get back in favor with local theater companies and feel comfortable.
“I have so many friends in the theater community, it was easy to come back,” he says.
Rainey won a Suzi Award last year for Lead Actor in a Musical for his work in Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s “Hairspray” He’s also been seen of late in Aurora Theatre’s “Kiss Me Kate,” the Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Jesus Christ Superstar Gospel” at the Alliance Theatre, among others. He directed “The Music Man” at Atlanta Lyric Theatre as well.
Later this year, he will be seen in “Gray Area” at Aurora. It’s a rarity for him – a play instead of a musical. Rainey plays a snarky, bitter theater critic who is kidnapped after some biting on-air comments.
Top photo: Glenn Rainey plays Nicely-Nicely Johnson in ‘Guys & Dolls’ (courtesy Theater of the Stars)