June 6, 2006

More About Hit Man Des McAnuff

June 6th, 2006

Jersey Boys’ Tony Award-winning director Des McAnuff talks to Playbill.com’s Harry Haun about his reputation as a hit man from coast to coast.

With Jersey Boys on Broadway and Zhivago in La Jolla, director Des McAnuff confirms his reputation as a hit man from coast to coast. McAnuff, a two-time Tony-winning director going for three this season, hails from Toronto, but you’d not suspect it from his work, which has always been all over the map. Take today: He’s at the August Wilson Theatre on Broadway, inhabiting the dems and dose burgs of the Garden State, where Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons (a.k.a. the Jersey Boys) took off, and at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, weaving through revolt-torn Russia in a musical Zhivago by Lucy Simon (music), Amy Powers and Grey Gardens’ Michael Korie (lyrics) and Michael Weller (book).

So is it any wonder that he was primed, pleased and highly susceptible when Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice presented him with an outline for a musical book that would cover the up-and-down, 30-year doo-wop saga of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons?

Truth to tell, he tells:

“They came to me with a treatment I wasn’t initially crazy about and I really wasn’t planning to do – then they played right into the director’s ego with ‘Okay. Well, you tell us: How would you do it?’ So I gave them some thoughts – like the idea of Four Seasons and four narrators. They took that structural idea, came back with another outline that did fantastic things. At that moment, I felt so confident about it that I green-lighted the project. We started designing it, in fact, before it was written, changing the color schemes very subtly, going from pastels in spring to richer colors in summer.”

He adds,

“I think the reason the show works so well is because it wasn’t just written – it was built. It was something that Ron Melrose, the music director, and Sergio Trujillo, the choreog-rapher, were working on simultaneously as the script was being written. Most writers would have fled in panic, but not Marshall and Rick. They embraced the process.”

McAnuff notes that audiences have embraced the show Big Time since its first previews at La Jolla. He states,

“I’ve never in my life had – and I can never remember even experiencing in other shows – people standing up in the middle of an act. The audience would stand at the end of ‘Walk Like a Man’ or ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.’ I think it’s a combination of the music and the story. At a certain point, the audience really believes they are The Four Seasons, and that feeds the actors. So much of the dialogue is between the actors and the audience, in a sense. People get so involved in the story they completely buy into the fiction. It’s a big part of the show – and very rare.”

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