For all his success in TV, Robert Newman has always had what he calls "a love affair" with regional theater. Good for us, because the longtime Joshua Lewis of Guiding Light (appearing in about 3,000 episodes from 1981-2009) will be singing and playing the roles of egotistic leading guy Fred Graham – and therefore also Petrucchio – in Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate, through Nov. 18 at the Broadway Theatre of Pitman in Pitman, N.J.
"That's where I first got offered a job and a paycheck, doing what I love to do," said Newman, whom I caught on the links, about to play a round of golf.
He went out to New York in 1981 for what he thought would be "a few days," to audition for Guiding Light, and it turned into almost three decades. "I'd never been in front of a camera in my life," he said. "When I started, I thought, 'Great. I'll be working daytimes, and I can do all this New York theater, too.' It doesn't work that way, of course: In soap operas, there's no time."
For summers, he'd do eight weeks of summer theater, if the producers agreed to let him go, "and it usually revitalized me." Here or there he took longer breaks from the soap opera but wound up returning. And once Guiding Light faded away in 2009, he went out "looking for characters I hadn't had the chance to play." Characters like George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Henry in The Lion in Winter or Edna in Hairspray.
Wait … Edna in Hairspray? "Oh, yeah," Newman says. "I could play that role for the rest of my life."
Who knew Newman sang? "I did some singing in college, stopped for a long time during the soap, and then I was raising our kids, not doing a lot of musical work. We had newborns, toddlers, then teenagers. But I went back over a decade ago. I was at a Broadway show, watching Tom Wopat play Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, and decided I really missed it. So I started studying with a voice teacher in Manhattan, to get to a place where I actually could sustain a musical for seven to eight shows a week. "
In 2016, he played Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha at Bristol Riverside Theatre. John Smitherman, producing artistic director at Broadway Theatre, saw him, and the two hit on the idea of Kiss Me, Kate.