Walter Bobbie, who so brilliantly first directed (I’d almost say who created) Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, gave a simple, crucial bit of direction to two of the show’s leads one day.
It was fall of 2004. We were rehearsing the show’s premiere production, slated to go up in San Francisco’s Curran Theatre. This was early days of rehearsal, in a New York hall that looked out over 42nd Street’s gaudy chaos toward Times Square. That morning, Brian d’Arcy James and Jeffry Denman were working on the scene where Bob and Phil, former army buddies who’ve become stars, decide to put on a show that will help their friend the General keep his Vermont inn going.
For some reason, the scene was going miserably. No matter how much Brian and Jeffry – wonderful performers both – went back and reattacked it, some necessary piece was missing. I wondered if I should simply rewrite the scene from scratch.
Then Walter stepped in for a word with the two actors.
He said to them, “I want to remind you of one thing. This is a pre-neurotic, pre-Sondheim musical we’re doing. The year is 1954. Bob and Phil are not interested in their feelings, or showing their feelings, or showing what sensitive men they are. They’re men of their time. They don’t want to be sensitive. They want to be decent. They want to help their old army buddy – the same way they’d help each other out of a jam, without thinking. Forget about Bob and Phil. The scene isn’t about them, it’s about the General. Now let’s try it again.”
You could palpably feel a sudden lightening of mood in the whole room, from the two actors and from everyone observing in the cast. It was the lightening that comes of revelation. And lo and behold when Brian and Jeffry launched back in, the scene was utterly changed. It was free. It was uncomplicated. It was joyous. And never again did a scene get stuck that way, because everyone in the room knew that Walter had gone to the heart of White Christmas. From that moment on, the show began to glow.
I pointed up that the what, 1949 movie
White Christmas was a bout a "lower than normal" snowpack in VT.
Which suggests to me that unless the writers of that musical had truly wild and visionary imaginations along the lines of a Creighton or King, they MUST have been "wrigint what they know," that being that sometimes ski areas don't get enough (or any) snow.