NEW YORK — Des McAnuff, whose stewardship of the La Jolla Playhouse in the 1980s and early ’90s brought the theater to a new level of national recognition, has again taken the artistic director reins at the regional nonprofit.
McAnuff had been acting as interim artistic director for the past year, and he has now signed on for three more seasons as a.d. He will lead the theater through the 2004 season.
“Within the first few weeks of my return last October, I realized that I enjoyed running the theater again,” McAnuff said in a statement. “Over the past months I sensed that the institution’s needs and my own desires were coalescing.”
McAnuff’s first tenure as a.d. began in 1983, reviving a theater, founded in 1947 by Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Mel Ferrer, that had been largely dormant for two decades. Over the next decade, McAnuff turned the theater into one of the country’s most vital nonprofits, and one with a savvy commercial edge, too. Tony Award-winning musicals “Big River,” “The Who’s Tommy” and the revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” were directed by McAnuff, who won Tonys for the first two.
McAnuff left in 1994 to pursue a film career and was succeeded by Michael Greif (“Rent”), who led the theater for five seasons. Greif’s replacement, Anne Hamburger, spent only one season as a.d. before moving on to a post at Disney; McAnuff’s interim appointment followed her departure.
McAnuff is bringing aboard a trio of additions to the theater’s artistic staff. New associate director is Kate Whoriskey, a director who has worked at Seattle’s Intiman Theater, the Classic Stage Co. and the Geva Theater, among others. She’s currently directing the world preem of Regina Taylor’s “Drowning Crow,” an adaptation of “The Seagull,” at the Goodman Theater in Chicago.
Shirley Fishman, for five years a dramaturg at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, will join the La Jolla staff as dramaturg.
Carrie Ryan, most recently on staff at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, is the new literary manager.
During the upcoming season (May 15-Nov. 11), McAnuff will direct the world premiere of “Dracula the Musical” and co-direct, with Whoriskey, “The Collected Works of Billy the Kid,” a play by Michael Ondaatje for which McAnuff also has written a musical score. The season also will include the Southern California premiere of “The Laramie Project” and a revival of “Our Town” directed by Greif, as well as new plays “Diva” by Howard M. Gould and “Be Aggressive” by Annie Weisman, directed by Lisa Peterson.
Between his La Jolla stints, McAnuff has mostly worked in film. He directed the 1998 picture “Cousin Bette,” starring Jessica Lange, and “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.” He produced the WB toon “The Iron Giant” and was exec producer on the film version of Doug Wright’s play “Quills.”