Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Broadway Bobbie

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Broadway Bobbie

Article excerpt

Overnight sensation is a term usually applied to actors. But with his revival of Chicago, Walter Bobbie has catapulted to the A-list of Broadway directors. In early 1996 he mounted a New York concert version of the 1975 Kander and Ebb musical as part of City Center's Encores! series, which each year revives three forgotten American musicals with stellar casts for one weekend only. Bobbie conceived the stripped-down version of Chicago as an homage to director Bob Fosse. "We dressed everybody in Fosse's favorite colors: black and flesh," he says with a laugh. The cast included Bebe Neuwirth, James Naughton, Joel Grey, and Ann Reinking (who also choreographed).

The show was such a smash that it transferred intact to Broadway. It spawned a London production and two national touring companies, one of which opens in Los Angeles May 6; all the productions together gross more than $2 million a week. It also earned Bobbie a Tony Award and an Olivier Award nomination for Best Director.

Of course, like most overnight sensations Bobbie had spent all of his life preparing for his close-up. "Growing up in New Jersey, I'd put on a sombrero and sing `we're havin' a heat wave' at the church annual variety show," says Bobbie, a handsome 53-year-old with graying hair and clear blue eyes. In eighth grade he, got a stereo for his birthday and a bunch of LPs, including Oklahoma!--the first of many show albums. "I memorized album covers the way some guys memorized baseball cards," he recalls. He studied accounting and literature at a Jesuit college in Pennsylvania until his mentor told him, "Forget about being a priest. Go live your life." After graduate work at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Bobbie moved to New York and worked his way up the Broadway ranks from the original production of Grease! in 1972 to Jerry Zaks's 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls. …

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