Des McAnuff's plays have reaped baskets of Tony Awards - Broadway's biggest honor - for Big River, The Who's Tommy, a Guys and Dolls revival, and more. His directing credits range from Billy Crystal's smash-hit one-person Broadway show, 700 Sundays, to intense, big-headed dramas such as A Walk in the Woods, a play about nuclear disarmament and possible global annihilation. His Jersey Boys, about the Four Seasons singing group, just may be Broadway's toughest ticket this season. But the irony of McAnuff is that for most of the past 20 years he has served as either artistic director or, more recently, director-in-residence of the La Jolla Playhouse near San Diego, some 3,000 miles off Broadway. This spring, McAnuff, 54, is shifting his base to the Stratford Festival of Canada in Ontario, still a great distance from Broadway.
He thrives on the physical separation from New York City. That's because he has succeeded by testing material in the low-pressure, lower-cost atmosphere of La Jolla. Jersey Boys, for instance, opened there. Now he says he has great ambitions for a New York run of Zhivago, a new musical (based on the epic Boris Pasternak novel) that premiered in La Jolla in 2006. "When we are not opening on 45th Street, there's a lot less pressure on us," says McAnuff, who is known to tinker with a show, from its script to its casting, right up to its New York opening.