Think Kay Thompson as the stylish, sophisticated magazine editor in the film "Funny Face." Then both Glinda the good witch and her evil sister in "The Wizard of Oz." And finally, an itinerant Texas preacher, more huckster than holy.
Julie White used all of them to find Diane, the savvy, opportunistic showbiz agent she portrays in "The Little Dog Laughed," Douglas Carter Beane's biting comedy of manners, Hollywood style.
The play opened in January at off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre to enthusiastic notices and now has been reborn on Broadway, where White is earning cheers for her performance as the agent for "a rising movie star who suffers from a slight recurring case of homosexuality." She wants to keep the star (Tom Everett Scott) in the closet and out of the arms of a young hustler (Johnny Galecki).
"I always try to be a big advocate for my characters -- not think of them ever in negative terms," White said one evening after rehearsals, as she relaxed with grilled chicken and a glass of white wine at the popular theater hangout Angus McIndoe's. "So I put a lot of positive glamour around her."
Positive glamour -- with a prairie twang. That's also a good way to describe the California-born, Texas-raised White, who has a knack for turning a character who could be a villain into a scene stealer who is impossible to resist.
Consider her brief yet memorable appearances -- only four episodes out of 63 -- as Mitzi Dalton Huntley, the barracuda-like funeral-home entrepreneur on "Six Feet Under."
"I designed that role around her -- something I rarely do," said Alan Ball, creator of the acclaimed HBO series. The two met in the early 1990s when Ball was a writer on "Grace Under Fire," an ABC sitcom on which White had a supporting role.
White's involvement with "The Little Dog Laughed" began when the play was just a snippet, part of the first TriBeCa Theater Festival in New York in 2004. At the time, it was called "He Meaning Him," and White played a Hollywood agent who, with the closeted movie star, was trying to persuade a playwright to give them the screen rights to his latest effort. Beane expanded the scene to a full-length evening, and it was picked up by Second Stage, which offered the role again to White.
Now 45, White grew up in Austin, Texas, then came to New York to study acting. She began her career off-Broadway in 1988 in the Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical "Lucky Stiff."
"The number of people who get to open a Broadway play, not a musical, is such a tiny club," she says. "And I'm not Julia Roberts, though God, I wish I was -- every morning when I look in the mirror. I'm not a superstar from another medium. I'm a theater star, if I'm anything. It's such a rarity."