Ritchie taking Center stage

Williamstown producer to take post in 2005

This article was updated at 6:53 p.m.

Massachusetts theater producer Michael Ritchie has been tapped to replace Gordon Davidson as artistic director of Center Theater Group, overseeing the Mark Taper Forum, the Ahmanson Theater and the yet-to-be-opened Kirk Douglas Theater.

Ritchie, producer of the Williamstown Theater Festival since 1996, will commute from the East Coast next year to prep for assuming the post at the start of 2005. Davidson, who announced his plans to leave in June 2002, will plan and present the 2004-05 seasons at the three venues, then serve as a consultant for the next three years.

Selection, which followed a 15-month search, places Ritchie in the most powerful post in Los Angeles theater as he will determine the direction of the Taper, which has presented high-profile plays such as “The Kentucky Cycle” and “Angels in America”; the Ahmanson, which is focused on Broadway tours; and the Kirk Douglas Theater, due to open in a year in Culver City as a venue aimed at presenting family productions, furthering diversity goals and serving as headquarters for CTG’s youth and education programs.

Davidson, 70, has been in charge of the Taper since it opened in 1967 and took over at the Ahmanson in 1989.

The 45-year-old Ritchie brings an extensive background on and off Broadway, having stage managed over 50 shows between 1980 and 1996 and overseen a diverse repertory of plays at Williamstown during the past seven years, including the first presentations of “Corners” by David Rabe, “Far East” by A.R. Gurney, “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” by Paul Rudnick, “The Glimmer Brothers” by Warren Leight, “The Waverly Gallery” by Kenneth Lonergan and “Chaucer in Rome” by John Guare. Williamstown’s revival of Arthur Miller’s “The Man Who Had All the Luck” moved to Broadway and was selected by Time magazine as one of the year’s 10 best productions last year.

CTG board prexy Richard Kagan told Daily Variety that a 15-member search committee, assisted by Greg Kandel management consultants, considered 100 potential candidates and interviewed 15 before settling on Ritchie. He added that key factors in the decision included commitments to artistic excellence, diversity and education.

“He knows that to get future theatergoers to attend, you have to connect with kids today,” Kagan said. “We are convinced that Michael Ritchie will build upon Gordon Davidson’s legacy while creating his own blueprint which, along with the vision of the board and staff, will carry Center Theater Group into the future.”

Davidson has told Daily Variety that the shift will enable him to spend more time working with playwrights and directors. Kagan said Davidson will remain active on all fronts during the next 15 months and CTG managing director Charles Dillingham will remain in charge of the financial and administrative functions of the org.

“I’ve known Michael for some time and watched him grow from a stage manager (coincidentally, this is also how I started in the theater) to his role as a producer in one of America’s leading summer theaters with a great tradition of high-class production work,” said Davidson said in a statement. “I think this is a wonderful next step for him.”

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