After standout and sold-out star turns with past Musical Theatre West productions, Davis Gaines returns to the stage at the Carpenter Center as the slick-talking salesman Harold Hill in Meredith Willson’s Tony Award-winning classic “The Music Man,” which opens this weekend. Gaines is well-known to Long Beach theatergoers after starring in “Man of La Mancha,” “Spamalot” and “1776.” He also sang in a concert version of “Mack and Mabel” and directed MTW’s production of “Oklahoma!” For his portrayal of Don Quixote in 2012, Gaines won an Ovation Award for Lead Actor in a Musical.
Nationally, Gaines is probably best known for playing both the title role and Raoul in “The Phantom of the Opera” more than 2,000 times on Broadway and in Los Angeles and San Francisco from 1991 to 1998.
Gaines, a Hollywood resident, keeps a busy schedule not only with musical theater but concerts and cabarets. He took some time, while stuck in traffic on Interstate 405, to answer five questions.
Q. After being so well-known for your brooding Phantom role, what has it been like to take on much lighter fare with MTW?
A. I’ve had a chance to tackle roles I haven’t tackled before. It’s a great opportunity as an actor. It’s a great place where I can work in a great environment and grow as an actor. I’m attracted to musical theater that has a dark side. I love doing that, but I love doing comedy as well. That’s one of the things I loved about “La Mancha”; it has comedy, but it has a strong powerful message. Even in “Phantom,” I tried to find the comedy. That makes the Phantom more human and approachable.
Q. Do you ever get tired of seeing “the 2,000 performances of Phantom Opera” tagline connected to your name?
A. No. No. It’s been really good to me to be the Phantom. I’m very proud of that. It was a great part of my life and will always remain that way. And there are worse things to have connected to your name.
Q. Do you have a dream role that you would like to take a stab at?
A. I’ve been able to do so many roles. I’d love to go back to Broadway and originate a role on Broadway. I don’t have anything particular I want to do.
Q. I see you have done “Broadway on Ice” and often sing the national anthem at Kings games. So what’s with the ice thing?
A. I did the Broadway part of the ice show with Dorothy Hamill and later Ekaterina Gordeeva. I grew up in Florida, so I was never near ice. Doing the show I realized they are athletes; they are truly athletes. Dorothy gave me skates and a few lessons. I can skate out for curtain calls and luckily I haven’t fallen yet.
Q. You have done concerts, songbooks and cabaret. Do you consider yourself more an actor or a singer?
A. I consider myself an actor first. That’s what I always wanted to do since I was a kid and what I went to school for. The singing was a gift. I don’t know where it came from. My parents didn’t sing, although my mom plays the piano. Singing was natural and came on its own. I’m lucky and grateful I can sing. To be a great singer, you have to be a great actor to tell the story of a song.