APRIL 6, 2022 BY CHRIS DANIELS

You’ll Remember him as the Electrifying Rock-Star Doctor of Chance Theater’s Gritty Drama, “Next to Normal.” You’ll Definitely Recognize him as the Gay, Suicidal Undertaker in “Fun Home” from 2020...
Sounds a Lot like the Phenomenal Ron Hastings—This Month’s Artist Spotlight!

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And, of course, he owns a gorgeous rock-star voice, too. Every time he opens his mouth, it’s pure gold. As a performer, Ron Hastings never had any doubt about his talent and what he could do, or at least nothing he wanted to propagate. His art was always the one thing where he felt secure and solid, and it would also help keep him courageous in other areas of life more challenging.
 
Most actors regard being able to be in front of a live performance as the pinnacle of acting, almost a communal moment with the people in the room. There is nothing more thrilling than being on stage, whether alone or in an ensemble, knowing that you’re leading a shared experience for a whole room full of strangers. Those words perfectly define this quintessential actor who has already performed laudably in his enduring career in theatre, and has gained respect in the community from peers with decades of experience.
He last appeared on stage earlier this year in January as Dr. Madden in “Next to Normal,” the multiple Tony and Pulitzer prize-winning drama about a family vexed by bipolar disorder, loss and the pain of disconnection. The show gives a powerful look at the harsh realities of mental illness, and in a broader sense, explores the myths we tell ourselves about its perceptions.
 
Two years ago, just before Covid-19 mushroomed into a full pandemic, Ron appeared as Bruce in “Fun Home,” earning him an L.A. Stage Alliance Ovation Award for Best Actor (“Fun Home” was named Best Musical). He’s also been seen as the Father in “Ragtime,” Ian in “The Other Place,” and Bill Devaney in “The Bodyguard” at the Candlelight Pavilion. Other musical theatre credits include The Narrator in “Into The Woods” at Center Stage in Fontana, Jesse in “Asleep in the Arms of God” at New Threads in Riverside, Frollo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Callahan in “Legally Blonde,” Otto Frank in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” James in “Time Stands Still,” Herod in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Toddy in “Victor Victoria,” Harry in “Company,” the title role in “Willy Wonka,” and Vanya in Christopher Durang’s comedy play, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” seemingly always playing characters either hilariously or tragically flawed, yet genuinely lovable.
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Ron Hastings in Next To Normal

As you can see, this enormously popular theater artist has all the credibility anyone could possibly need to draw an audience, providing some of the best moments on stage for us, time and time again. Every move of every role seems carefully calibrated to a degree that would seem stagey coming from a lesser actor.
 
But there’s more. Join me now for this wonderful, informative and heartwarming interview with the amazing Ron Hastings, histrionic leading man, as The Show Report gives us the inside scoop on where he’s been, where he’s going and how he got there. You don’t want to miss this!
Hi, Ron! Sincere congratulations on your outstanding performance in the recently successful run of “Next to Normal” at Chance Theater, where you played the iconic Dr. Madden, surprising a lot of theatergoers on your vocal prowess and acting ability. How was it to work with such a talented cast on this show and what did you enjoy the most?
 
“’Iconic’, huh? Thanks! In addition to everyone being incredibly talented and so perfectly suited to their roles, I have to say that this was one of the “tightest” teams (cast, creative team, crew, band) I’ve ever had the privilege of being part of. You really have to trust the people with whom you’re telling a story as emotionally loaded as N2N, and from the very beginning I think we all understood and embraced that, and it led us to form genuine bonds of affection and camaraderie and friendship that I know are going to last forever. I really love all those people.”
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Ron Hastings in Next To Normal

“I’ll just go ahead and share here what I’ve been pretty open about on social media over the last several years: I lost my wife, Dianna (yeah, same name as the central character in N2N) to Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease over four years ago. When I say ‘lost’ you have to understand that her body was still alive, but everything that made her who she was – the woman I fell in love with and married and raised a daughter with, and suffered the loss of a son with (again, like ‘Diana’ and ‘Dan’ in N2N) – began to disappear rapidly way back then. And since 2018 I’ve begun every new project with an awkward conversation with the director, to assure them that, even if Dianna died during the run of that show, I would be there to fulfill my commitment to my cast and team.”

“It was no different with N2N, except that I’d had that conversation previously with Matt, when he directed me in ‘The Other Place’ – 3½ years ago! (more on that later) But this was the first time I issued a team-wide heads-up, when hospice told me that Dianna was getting close to the end. And these were the people who held me up and offered quiet but strong love and support before and during a matinee performance on February 20, three hours after I’d been informed of Dianna’s death. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I had them with me at that moment in my life.”
Almost two years to the date previous, you managed to wow us once again in the Tony award-winning Fun Home as Bruce, where you earned an L.A. Stage Alliance Ovation Award nomination for Best Actor. Was that a challenging role for you?
 
“OMG, yes! That has to be one of the most challenging roles I’ve ever taken on! Bruce Bechdel – in life and on stage – was an extraordinarily complicated, conflicted and confounding man. His daughter, Alison (the creator of the graphic novel upon which the show is based) said of her father, ‘His bursts of kindness were as incandescent as his tantrums were dark … but it was impossible to tell if the minotaur lay just beyond the next corner.’ Playing him on stage required me to strike a delicate but sometimes jarring balance between love and fury; devotion and bullying; obsession with beauty and rage at a world that did not accept him as he truly was. And in the end, he simply concluded that he could no longer endure the pain of trying to live in that world. I wanted the audience to simultaneously love and hate Bruce, to fear and loathe him one moment and pity him the next. ‘Fun Home’ ran for six weeks and I don’t think I ever found the perfect balance, and I don’t think I could have if we’d played for six years!”
 
Ron, despite your passion for the stage, you stepped away from performing for over 20 years, and only returned to acting a few years ago. If I’m not mistaken, in those two decades you were working as the director of a library. Can you tell us a little about that and what happened?
 
 
Yes, I stepped away from theatre in 1992, before our daughter was born, and came back to it in 2012. Since then, I worked fairly constantly on stage until the pandemic, but I can’t help but recognize that there are myriad roles I might have had, shows I might have done, in my thirties and forties; those are kinda prime years! However, I stepped away from it because our daughter was essentially our creative outlet, mine and Dianna’s (who was also an actor; that’s how we met). We poured all that energy into her, and I didn’t want to miss a minute of it, so I don’t regret it at all. I’ve worked as an academic library director since then – still do.” 

Another show spoken of earlier was the 2018 psychological drama, “The Other Place,” co-starring with Jacquelin Wright as her estranged husband. In that show, you were brilliant, helping to carry the story to an edgy anxiety. In what way did you prepare yourself for this role? 

“I mentioned earlier that Matt McCray directed both ‘Next to Normal’ and ‘The Other Place,’ 3½ years apart, both at the Chance Theater, both centered around women suffering from mental illness, and the people in their lives who suffer collateral damage. He and I both acknowledge the strange importance of that connection. For years, I avoided N2N because of all the way-too-close parallels to my own story with Dianna. But in the end, I thought ‘Hey, if I could get through ‘The Other Place’ I can get through ‘N2N.’ In both cases I concluded that, as difficult as I knew it would be, I simply couldn’t not help tell those stories, and bring my personal experiences to them, as a way to honor Dianna. And the fact that I was going to be working with Matt again sealed the deal.” 

“Given my own story, and my personal experience with Alzheimer’s and all its cruelty, I think the biggest challenge I had in preparing to play ‘Ian’ was in finding the ways in which he and I were not alike, how his story with ‘Julianna’ differed from mine with Dianna. However, they’re not ‘estranged’ at all, as you suggest. He is very much in love with her, and she with him, which makes her falling victim to the disease that much more heartbreaking. It’s a brilliant play, and Jacqueline’s performance was extraordinary.”
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The Company of Next To Normal

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The Company of Next To Normal

Who has been your greatest inspiration and what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
 
“I need to unlearn the understandable but unfortunate idea that I have to get out of bed every morning in order to take care of someone else, to ‘manage things,’ to earn enough money to pay for nursing home costs, etc. Like so many, especially men of my generation, I need to learn how to be my own greatest inspiration. It’s an idea that we talked about a lot during ‘Next to Normal,’ and another uncomfortably close parallel between myself and the character of ‘Dan’. It’s not until the very end of the show that he begins to recognize that he must take care of his own emotional needs too, that he has spent far too long thinking only of his wife’s and daughter’s welfare, to his own detriment. I’m on that journey now.”
 
Out of all the theatrical characters you’ve played, who do you identify with the most?
 
“I played ‘Salieri’ in Amadeus before my wife was finally officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but as her symptoms were rapidly worsening, we knew we were losing her. At the end of the first act, Salieri basically declares war on God, in response to what he sees as God’s profound unfairness and betrayal. I remember telling our director just before I was going to rehearse that monologue for the first time with the whole cast (which included my daughter, btw) that I was just going to let fly, and that it was likely to get very ugly. And it was, because that rage was very personal and very real. The cast just stood there in stunned silence for several seconds before they burst into applause and my daughter walked over and hugged me. I don’t know if he’s the character with whom I identify most in the long run, but he was one with whom I identified most, concurrently.”
 
Give us an example of a dream project or collaboration on your wish list.
 
“There are probably dozens of roles that I’d still like to play (many of which I’ve aged out of, unfortunately) but one that’s still at or near the top of my bucket list is ‘Ray’ in David Harrower’s ‘Blackbird.’”
 
Ron, it looks like, in your early career, you were very visible with the repertory and festival circuits and ‘cut your teeth’ on Shakespearean classics like “As You Like It,” “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Comedy of Errors.” Did that kind of experience help ground you as an actor?
 
“Virtually all of my experience with Shakespeare came during and right after college and grad school, so I look back on them as part of my education. The thing that working on “the classics” does best is foster an appreciation of the music of language, literally the sound of words (see ‘Blackbird’ as a fantastic example).
 
Most actors thrive on applause and accolades from the audience. But when you perform as the villain or archenemy in a play or musical, does it dispirit you in any way to receive those well-intended “boos” on your final bows?
 
“Absolutely not! In fact, I’m probably infamous for ‘milking’ the audience for those boos during curtain calls after I’ve played the baddy. It means I’ve done my job well. Callahan in ‘Legally Blonde’ and Frollo in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ are two recent examples.”
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Ron Hastings and Kaitlyn Brown in  Eurydice

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Ron Hastings and Christa El-Said in Rabbit Hole

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Ron Hastings and Company in Fun Home

What would you say to the budding actors and artists out there attempting to make it in a career in theatre, and what tips can you give a novice entering the field?
 
“This may sound a little crass, but a visiting lecturer offered it in grad school and it still rings true today: If there is anything other than theatre that you do reasonably well, and that brings you some measure of joy, do that instead. Because theatre is hard, transitory, and often frustrating work. And don’t go into it thinking you’re going to become rich and famous; that happens to very, very few. But if you cannot imagine not being a storyteller (as I cannot) and if there is nothing that brings you anywhere near the same joy, then pour your heart and soul into it. Study! Talent and skill are different things, and both necessary to be good at this.”
 
What’s next for you? What are you working on at the moment?
 
“Absolutely nothing booked right now. As I spoke to earlier, I’m just working on me right now.”
 
And finally, Ron, what’s something you are really good at that few people know about?
 
“I make a pretty good moussaka.”
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Ron Hastings and Jacqueline Wright in The Other Place

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Ron Hastings, Kylie Molnar Tangermann and Erica Marie Weisz in A Surprise for Santa

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Ron Hastings and Lauren Bell in The Diary of Anne Frank

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The "Artist Spotlight" is a continuing interview series highlighting entertainment professionals, working actors, singers, stage managers, producers, directors, designers and others in the arts and entertainment industry. In this exclusive interview, THE SHOW REPORT was honored to talk with award-winning actor Ron Hastings about his most challenging roles, how to keep focused in the wake of tragedy, and what it takes to have a career on stage. Check out his revealing interview below.
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