February 24, 2007

Des McAnuff Reflects on His Career & Jersey Boys

February 24th, 2007

In a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times, Irene Lacher spoke to La Jolla Playhouse’s Artistic Director Des McAnuff, who will be taking his final bow on April 15 to become one of three Artistic Directors at Canada’s prestigious Stratford Festival.

After two stints at the helm of La Jolla Playhouse — from 1983 to 1994 and from 2001 to the present — McAnuff, 54, leaves 25 Tonys in his wake, including the 1993 award for outstanding regional theater. As artistic director emeritus, he’ll continue to help raise funds and direct plays for the theater.

McAnuff reflected on his award-winning career at La Jolla Playhouse. Here’s what he said about Jersey Boys, the megahit that opened in La Jolla in 2004:

Four Seasons Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe left the creators alone to craft the musical about their lives. They didn’t see the show until opening night and, says McAnuff, “they cried like babies.” The show went on to win four Tony Awards.

When we were putting this together, the aesthetic we adopted was to have musicians playing rock ‘n’ roll onstage: Even the band would be there as supporting characters. I wanted to get people who really played.

Two guys who came to mind were Donnie Kehr and Christian Hoff from “Tommy.” We played at the China Club during those days, particularly if Pete [Townshend] was in town, so I knew those guys were good players. Donnie was doing some act in Vegas. He plays bass drums, and he’s good on guitar as well as keyboards. I got him in. But I couldn’t find Christian. He’d moved from New York to Los Angeles and I lost track of him. He was raised on La Jolla Playhouse. He grew up in San Diego, and he’d been in youth theater here. I’d been proud of him in “Tommy,” and I was disappointed they couldn’t seem to track him down. We went to Los Angeles for auditions because we audition on both coasts. We’re leaving the parking lot on our way out, and just as I’m backing out, Christian pulls up with his two kids. He was at whatever his straight job was at that point — he may have been teaching; he wasn’t really acting at the time. So we all piled back in. Even the accompanist had gone. But luckily he brought his guitar. He just blew us away and literally two minutes into his reading, I knew we’d found Tommy DeVito. He, of course, went on to win the Tony Award.

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