Greif to ankle La Jolla

'Rent' director to leave Playhouse following '99 slate

Michael Greif’s fifth season as the artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse will be his last.

“My reasons for leaving are overwhelmingly personal,” said Greif, who’s led the Tony-winning regional theater since the ’95 season and will oversee the upcoming ’99 slate. “I have a lover and family in New York and want to be able to spend more time with them.”

He expects to spend most of next year working on the season and overseeing the transition to a new artistic chief.

Greif, former La Jolla a.d. Des McAnuff and the Playhouse’s managing director Terrence Dwyer will aid a search committee that will immediately begin looking for a successor. Former League of Regional Theaters prexy Stephen J. Albert will act as a consultant. They aim to make a decision by early next year.

‘Rent’ pays big

Greif’s tenure at the Playhouse got a big publicity boost from a project that didn’t originate there, when “Rent,” which Greif developed and directed for New York Theater Workshop, became a theatrical phenomenon upon its debut early in 1996.

The West Coast premiere of that musical at the Playhouse helped send 1997 subscriber numbers surging from 8,782 in ’96 (a drop of about 1,000 from the prior year) to a Playhouse record 14,081. In ’98, the theater held on to most of those new subscribers, with the number receding to 12,493.

Indeed, Greif largely divided his time since “Rent’s” premiere between his La Jolla duties and staging new productions of the Pulitzer Prize winning Jonathan Larson tuner. In addition to the Broadway production, he’s directed two national tours as well as the London and Canadian versions. Next month he heads to Australia to supervise a production there. No new “Rents” are on his schedule, but Greif joked, “I should state publicly that I’d be interested in going to Paris.”

New tuner

Other plans include a new musical for New York Theater Workshop, “Bright Lights, Big City,” which opens early next year.

During his tenure as a.d. at the Playhouse, Greif directed Randy Newman’s “Faust,” Tony Kushner’s “Slavs!,” Diana Son’s “Boy” and this season’s “Dogeaters.”

Under his watch, the Playhouse continued to eliminate debt that stood at $1.84 million in ’92. Under McAnuff’s last two seasons that was halved, and during Greif’s the rest was eliminated.

Despite “Rent’s” astonishing commercial success, Greif says he expects his career will continue to be centered in nonprofit theater.

“It’s foolish to close any door, but certainly my immediate focus would be new work in nonprofit arena,” said Greif, adding, “I also intend to keep my hand in many new projects here at La Jolla.”

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