Known for his role as Richard Henry Lee in both the original Broadway cast of 1776 and the film adaptation, Ronald Holgate has a distinguished career as a stage actor, singer, and director. Born in Aberdeen, South Dakota, Holgate initially focused on drama at Northwestern University but soon became interested in opera. As a protégé of Boris Goldovsky – a champion of opera in America – Holgate studied at Tanglewood and the New England Conservatory and later sang opera professionally.
Musical theater, however, eventually lured him to Broadway. In 1961, he appeared as part of the original Broadway cast of Milk and Honey, a musical by Don Appell and Jerry Herman, set in Jerusalem. It was moderately successful, and the next show he performed in was a bona fide hit: Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1964), in which Holgate played the soldier Miles Gloriosus in the original cast. The show won a Tony® for Best Musical and enjoyed nearly a thousand performances on Broadway.
But in 1969 Holgate experienced even greater success in 1776, in which he played Richard Henry Lee, the old Virginian who urges American independence from England. The Peter Stone-Sherman Edwards musical garnered many Tonys®, including Best Musical, and Holgate won the Tony® for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. He reprised his role as Lee in the 1972 film adaptation of 1776, and both the original Broadway cast recording and the movie on DVD are available on Sony.
In the 1970s, Holgate returned to opera to play in Puccini’s La bohème and Mozart’s Don Giovanni, as well as in the world premiere of Seymour Barab’s Civil War-era opera Philip Marshall (1974).
Holgate also took part in the all-star extravaganza Sondheim: A Musical Tribute (1973), issued on CD; starred in The Grand Tour (1979) with Joel Grey; played the “world-famous tenor Tito Merelli” in Ken Ludwig’s play Lend Me a Tenor (1989); and performed in revivals of Guys and Dolls, Annie Get Your Gun, and Kiss Me, Kate. His off-Broadway and other credits include Show Boat, Annie, Windy City, and Urinetown.
In recent years, Holgate has channeled much of his energy into directing, working with the New York State Theatre Institute in Troy, New York, and Syracuse Opera.