From soaps to Gypsy

Robert Newman recently completed his 28-year run as Joshua Lewis on the longest running program in broadcasting history, The Guiding Light. The role garnered him two Daytime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

Newman has also played the characters of Prescott Harrell on General Hospital and Kirk Cranston on Santa Barbara.

“But I’ve tried never to let myself be pigeonholed by any of these roles,” said Newman, getting ready to appear with Tovah Feldshuh in Gypsy at Bristol Riverside Theatre Dec. 6 through Jan. 15. In fact, over the years, the actor has taken to the stage in such productions as Man of La Mancha, Curtains, Nine, A Little Night Music and many others.

“Even with all my years on the soaps, many times, I took off six to eight weeks a year to do stage shows. For me, and for audiences, too, I think, there’s nothing like live performances to get those juices flowing,” he said.

According to Newman, each of the characters he’s played, whether on television, the small screen or on stage, is completely different and so each one has taught him something different.

“Obviously, there’s a character like film director Guido Cantini in Nine who taught me what it’s like to have a nervous breakdown for two hours a day, eight times a week,” Newman explained. “That’s one of the most taxing roles I’ve ever done, and having to make it happen eight times a week means the character begins to teach you a lot about yourself.”

Then there was Lt. Frank Cioffi in Curtains, which Newman acknowledged was a lot of fun to do.

“I was involved in an endless amount of murder mystery-solving kind of dialogue that keeps your brain working at a thousand miles an hour,” he said.

And of course, one of his favorites was Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha.

“That play not only transforms you, but it’s not like anything else I’ve ever done, and I want to do it again and again and again. I imagine it will continue to be a growing experience for me,” he said.

Taking the role of Herbie, the average salesman who runs into Rose, her two children, and a lot of unexpected experiences in Gypsy, is also a learning experience.

“Since each character is completely and utterly different, it’s easier to play them if you can find a way to relate. I’m now finding my way with Herbie,” he said.

Newman, 53, hadn’t planned to become an actor. In fact, he first majored in psychology at college. But taking an acting course as an elective soon changed his mind, finding acting and psychology had much in common.

“They both looked into the human mind and human relationships,” he said. “As the youngest of five children, I came from a big, busted and highly dysfunctional family, so I was interested in all kinds of relationships.”

Later, earning a bachelor of arts degree in theater from California State University at Northridge, Newman decided to go into acting full time. While he’s also appeared on TV in such series as Criminal Minds, NCIS and Law and Order: SVU, he said he keeps getting drawn back to the stage and looks forward to doing more work in that direction.

“It is a shame, however, that the soaps have disappeared, but business is business,” Newman noted. “Every once in a while, however, fans come up to me and ask me how Josh and Reva are doing. They saw the soap so realistically as to think these are real people.

“But I can understand the fascination,” he concluded. “After all, I signed on for three years and had one of the best twenty-eight-year runs of my career.” ••

For times and ticket information, call 215–785–0100.