Gordon Davidson’s Life in Theater Celebrated at Ahmanson

At the Center Theatre Group’s celebration of Gordon Davidson’s life Monday at the Ahmanson there were testimonials, poems and songs sung to honor the man who built up regional theater on the West Coast. Davidson, 83, died Oct. 2 in Los Angeles.

Michael Ritchie, CTG artistic director, kicked off the events, describing how, 12 years ago, he was picked to be Davidson’s successor. It was a “distinct honor and daunting task to follow Gordon Davidson,” he said, knowing it could go “two ways.”

Among the speakers were former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who related how “Ronald Reagan walked out,” at the Mark Taper Forum’s 1967 opening of the controversial play “The Devils.”  The Catholic Church was horrified and his predecessors on the Board of Supervisors were terrified. But Davidson stood firm.

Testifying to the highlights of Davidson’s career were the artists he nurtured, including Charlayne Woodard, Andrea Marcovicci, Lillias White, and Keith David who sang, accompanied by pianists Shelly Markham and Bill Cantos.

Playwright Michael Cristofer described how Davidson helped take his “Shadow Boxer” to Broadway, fighting the producers who wanted to shut it down. Luis Valdez, whose “Zoot Suit” is returning to the Taper next month, talked about how his company entered the mainstream when Davidson staged the play. Davidson had asked Valdez about updating “Zoot Suit,” which the playwright initially saw no reason to, telling Davidson, “It’s done.” But then he realized there was more to say.

Culture Clash’s Richard Montoya talked about the staging of “Chavez Ravine” and introduced Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza, who re-created the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello classic bit “Who’s on First.”

Many of the artists spoke of how Davidson “saw something in me” that they themselves were unaware of, and how his help changed their professional lives. On a lighter note, speakers also mentioned his habit of nodding off during a show. But at the same time, he would give notes that made them wonder if had been awake all along.

Not all the speakers were playwrights or actors. Manager Jonathan Barlow Lee and director Tom Moore brought the house down with his descriptions of working with Davidson. Whenever something went wrong, Davidson would ask, “How could this happen?,” Lee said.

A few videotaped testimonials were presented, including one from Tony Kushner, who spoke about Davidson’s early backing for “Angels in America.”

Actor Harry Groener; director Tom Moore; Oskar Eustis, artistic director of New York’s Public Theater;  Davidson’s daughter, Rachel; and his wife, Judi, spoke emotionally about the private man.

“I would have treated him better if I’d known how important he was going to be,” quipped Judi Davidson. On a more somber note, she said Davidson had thought he’d been forgotten, but seeing the full house Monday night he would have realized that was not the case.

Popular on Variety

More Legit

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content