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Michael Langham dies at 91

Classical theater director was Tony-nominated

Tony-nominated classical theater director Michael Langham, the former artistic topper of the Guthrie in Minneapolis, died Jan. 15 in Kent, England, from pneumonia. He was 91.

Langham was credited with reviving the Guthrie, which had been foundering before his arrival.

He was a.d. of Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival and also a prolific helmer of Shakespeare and Moliere on Broadway, directing notable performers on the stage in both America and England: Peter O’Toole in “The Merchant of Venice,” John Gielgud in “Julius Caesar,” Paul Scofield in “Coriolanus,” Scofield and Zoe Caldwell in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and Julie Harris in “Romeo and Juliet.”

He collaborated with actor Brian Bedford on a number of occasions: A 1991 production of “Timon of Athens” that eventually landed on Broadway and a 1995 evening of Moliere comedies. Both drew Tony nominations, including for director Langham for “Timon.”

Born in England, Langham was a law student at London U. but spent much of his time elsewhere, acting in theaters. During WWII he served in the British Army and was captured by the Germans. He directed other prisoners in a series of plays during his five-year internment in POW camps.

After WWII he directed at Stratford-Upon-Avon and the Old Vic, as well as theaters in Belgium, Scotland and Australia.

In 1955 he helmed “Julius Caesar,” his first show at the Stratford fest in Ontario, and the following year he succeeded Tyrone Guthrie as its a.d., a post in which remained until theater’s 1967 season.

Langham was a.d. at Minneapolis’ Guthrie from 1971-77, directing key productions including “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Oedipus, the King.” Seguing to Juilliard, he was director of the drama division from from 1979-92.

In 1968 he directed Zoe Caldwell in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” in an 11-month run on Broadway.

He directed Christopher Plummer in a number of productions as well; their association began with a 1956 staging of “Henry V” at Stratford that is credited with significantly boosting the actor’s career. They also worked together on productions of “Hamlet,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Romeo and Juliet” (as Mercutio) and “Cyrano de Bergerac.”

Langham was artistic adviser to the National Actors Theater, founded by Tony Randall, in the 1990s; the last play he directed on Broadway was Noel Coward’s “Waiting in the Wings,” which opened in December 1999.

Langham is survived by his wife, actress-director Helen Burns; son Chris; and five grandchildren.

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