Countdown To Footloose: Director WALTER BOBBIE

News   Countdown To Footloose: Director WALTER BOBBIE
On opening nights, some directors annoy their casts back stage, some get sick in the bathroom, others toss back drinks in the lobby bar.
Photo by Photo by Starla Smith

On opening nights, some directors annoy their casts back stage, some get sick in the bathroom, others toss back drinks in the lobby bar.

Walter Bobbie, who directed Footloose, says he likes to sit right down front, in a seat where he can't easily get up, and "be in solidarity with my cast."

"My work is over," he says of openings, perhaps also referring to his lauded revival of Broadway's Chicago, still running at the Shubert Theatre and touring the country. "I don't hide in back, I don't pace. It's not about me."

There was plenty of hard work for Bobbie, who also co-wrote the Footloose book based on the 1984 film, but there wasn't painful heartache in the past few months, he says. The tryout in Washington DC, for example, was not about major surgery. No major musical sequences were added or subtracted, but the script was tightened and characters clarified.

"The opportunity to work on something new is rare, and you take any offer seriously," says Bobbie. As former artistic director of the musical theatre concert series "Encores!," he didn't have a brush with a new Broadway musical staging until Footloose, although he did help put together the pieces of a Broadway revue of Rodgers and Hammerstein's work, A Grand Night for Singing. Footloose combines existing pop songs from the film, by Dean Pitchford and various composers, and newly-written Pitchford character songs that flesh out adult roles in the teen-oriented show.

"The pop stuff is harder to stage," admits Bobbie. "The pop stuff was never sung by characters in the film. Somewhere along the line you fold in the five hit songs..."

He didn't want the show to be moral or preachy; he wanted to emphasize the decency and humanity of the characters. He says he wanted the experience to be recognizable: "I remember saying to [casting directors] Julie [Hughes] and Barry [Moss] , I would like to cast the show so they look like Americans. I want you to find black people or Hispanic or Asian people...I wanted them to look like us up there. I don't care if they're short, tall, skinny; I just wanted them to look like a real town."

Bobbie points out that the costumes by Toni-Leslie James are not hip, self-conscious "show" costumes, but they feel real for the teen characters -- like you could "go to the Gap" and get them. The simple, evocative sets, by John Lee Beatty, are not the usual spectacle-oriented designs but neutral and perfect to suggest Anyplace, USA (also allowing lots of room to dance). "I'm proud of the artistry our team has brought to it," says Bobbie.

Can a crossover audience of young people and nostalgic thirtysomethings (who knew the film in their formative years) make Footloose the Grease of the 1990s?

Bobbie, a onetime actor, was in the original cast of Grease. "I hope we have more emotional weight than Grease had," he says. "But we should only be so lucky to run so long and be translated into 26 languages, like Grease."

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