BWW Interviews: WHITE CHRISTMAS' John Scherer & Bob Wallace

You would be hard pressed to find anyone out there today who does not know the familiar refrain "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas". In fact, this classic holiday song is one of the most recorded songs in history and can be found playing in department stores, on MP3 players and as part of the ever-present soundtrack each holiday season. The song, and many more Irving Berlin classics will soon be heard echoing through the Fabulous Fox Theatre when White Christmas, the latest production from Theater of the Stars, opens November 2 – 7. Leading the cast of this heartwarming family classic, in the role of Bob Wallace, is veteran actor John Scherer. We caught up with John during rehearsals for the show (the production opens its holiday tour in Atlanta) to talk about his career, playing an iconic role, and the magic of this holiday classic. 

BWW: John, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I am excited to hear about the show and I know our readers will be too. We are really looking forward to White Christmas in Atlanta!

John Scherer: Great!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career. Specifically, how did you get into the theatre business??

Well, let's see. When I was a kid I was in a production of Peter Pan with Bonnie Franklin at the Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, NY. I grew up there in Buffalo, but I have no showbiz roots in my family at all. My mother ran a bowling alley and my father was a high school librarian. My mom saw a notice in the paper for the show and I went to it and from that day on I knew I wanted to be an actor. I did community theatre and then went to Carnegie Mellon for college and then came right to New York. I actually booked an Off-Broadway show four days after I got there. It was a big flop called Preppies, it reopened the Promenade Theatre on 76th and Broadway. A lot of my career has been in regional theatre but my first Broadway show was Sunset Boulevard. I was working at these amazing regional theatres like the Goodman and the Arena Stage and playing opposite women like Marin Mazzie but I had never done a Broadway show. While I was doing Sunset Boulevard I got cast in a show called By Jeeves by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn, and that took forever to get to New York. It was a huge role and then it lasted for like three months. You know, I have never been great at sitting around waiting for something to happen. If I got a good part I would just go and do it. After college I could have fit in a million choruses, but I just didn't want to get labeled as a chorus boy. In looking back sometimes I think it was a mistake, because you miss out on working with some really amazing people but it was just the path that I chose. I wanted to do more than just musicals, I wanted to do plays. And that has been really beneficial in terms of transitioning into television, and stuff like that.

And is this your first experience with White Christmas?

Yes it is, the very first. When I got cast, I thought I would be playing Phil because I am a tap dancer, but I am happy to be doing this role.

Were you a fan of the movie?

I loved the movie. I remember in Pittsburgh, my college roommates, Dick [Scanlan] and Biffy, and I watched White Christmas together, and we were all in tears as soon as the credits started, so I have always loved the movie.

And White Christmas opens here in Atlanta, correct?

Yes, we are in reharsals now and will go to Chattanooga, TN to do the tech. I think we might have a preview or two in Chattanooga October 29 – 30 as well. That may seem a little early for a Christmas show, but the great thing is that there are a lot of numbers in the show that aren't Christmas numbers.

How are rehearsals going so far?

They are great. It is interesting because the woman I am playing opposite, Amy Bodnar, as well as Shannon M. O'Bryan who is playing Judy and Denis Lambert who plays Phil have all done the show before, so they know the show much more than I did. I feel like I am playing catch up a little bit, but I am a relatively quick study. And Ruth Williamson, who is playing Martha, she has done the show six times, I believe. She is an old friend of mine. She was actually in Preppies with me in NY.

White Christmas is such an iconic movie, and beloved by so many people. Do you think that makes it easier to perform the material because there is already so much excitement from the audience, or is that a challenge because of expectations?

I think it's probably both. The movie benefits from huge stars who were beloved. In fact, I think at the time Bing Crosby was the number one box office draw and Danny Kaye was the number three when this movie opened. So they have the benefit of having the audience know who they are already. But I think you approach it like you are just trying to tell a story about these people in these circumstances. I honestly don't even think about the movie at all when we are performing. There are certain lines that are directly from the movie and a lot of the songs, of course, but then there are also other songs that are not in the movie too.

So there is new material in your production?

Yeah, the best thing about the show is the score. Those Irving Berlin songs, you can't beat it. They have added in "I Love a Piano" and "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" and some great tunes that are not in the movie. I think when they wrote the show they went through the catalog and pulled whatever they needed.

Talking about your role, Bob Wallace, as we talked about, it was played so famously by Bing Crosby in the movie. Is there anything you draw on from his portrayal for your performance?

Honestly, I don't. There are certain things about the character that are the same. He is a very formal guy, very traditional. He is a little uptight. He doesn't go out on frivolous dates. So, the essence of the character are the same but that is more character driven and not a reflection on Bing Crosby's portrayal of the role.

The movie has been around so long, that I expect there are many younger theater-goers who will be introduced to the material for the first time through your show. What's do you think about bringing this story to a new generation of audiences?

I always think that is great. Pretty much anything I ever work on, I think about that. Especially when you are doing a matinee with a small audience that is not really responsive. You know that there is someone out there that is going to respond to it. I used to go to the theatre when I was a kid, so I know it really does change people. I actually find that moving about being part of the theatre, it's a communal experience that we all have together and it only happens that one time.

So far, what part of playing this role do you like the most? What will you look forward to the most when you open here in Atlanta?

Honestly, it's singing the songs. I really love singing the songs. I really don't have a favorite, they are all so great. "White Christmas" is possibly the greatest song recorded, I think it is literally the most records ever sold. I love singing "Count Your Blessings". They put in a song called "Let Yourself Go" that is a great number. I get to sing "Blue Skies" at the end of the first act, and "How Deep Is The Ocean", they are just all so great.

You have played some great roles in the past but thinking toward the future, do you have a dream role that you would one day like to play?

I actually don't. As far as past roles that really were great, I did a production of George M about ten years ago and that was a role that I always wanted to play. Playing Bertie Wooster in By Jeeves was also a highlight for me.

And have you ever been to Atlanta, or will this be your first visit here?

I have. I played the Fox Theatre back in 1990, in a tour of Mame with Juliet Prowse. But I havent been down there in 20 years. I di=o remember it being huge and gorgeous.

What's next for you after White Christmas?

Honestly, I have no idea. I need a rest because this has been an incredibly busy year for me. I did Spamalot and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in Sacramento this summer, and then I went right into a production of Boeing Boeing at the Cape Playhouse then did another production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the North Shore Music Theatre. Literally one would end and the next one would start the next day. So I need a break. But I know myself, I know I am going to be asking what's next real soon.

John, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today. Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?

Just that the show is truly a feel good show. That and they would probably like to know about the magic at the end of the show, it actually snows! 

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Irving Berlin's WHITE CHRISTMAS will play the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta from November 2-7, 2010. Performances are Tuesday-Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm & 8 pm, and Sunday at 1:30 pm & 7 pm. Tickets are on sale NOW at Ticketmaster outlets, 800-982-2787 and www.ticketmaster.com.  Ticket prices range from $25-$70.  Special group rates are available through the Fox Theatre Group Sales Department at 404-881-2000. 

Theater of the Stars celebrates its 58th Anniversary as one of the nation's premier regional theater companies.  A civic not-for-profit cultural treasure, Theater of the Stars is dedicated to presenting and producing the best in musical theater.  To learn more about our history of excellence, visit www.theaterofthestars.com.

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From This Author Joseph Harrison