How Risk and Range Allowed L.A.’s Center Theatre Group to Become One of the Country’s Most Prosperous

Regional Spotlight   How Risk and Range Allowed L.A.’s Center Theatre Group to Become One of the Country’s Most Prosperous
 
How the theatre that launched Broadway’s Amélie and is set to premiere Broadway-bound Crazy For You put itself on the map.
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Laura Osnes and Tony Yazbeck Joseph Marzullo/WENN

“I like to think that part of our mission is to present the widest range of theatre to the greatest number of people with the deepest impact,” Center Theatre Group Artistic Director Michael Ritchie says.

Ritchie has been artistic director for 12 of CTG’s 50 years, heading a company that is among the country’s largest and that comprises three theatres: the 2,066-seat Ahmanson, the 736-seat Mark Taper Forum, and the 317-seat Kirk Douglas. “We have 3,000 seats a night to sell,” Ritchie says. “We do 18 to 20 shows a year.”

Ritchie says his company has been raising its profile inside and outside Los Angeles, forging co-commissioning agreements with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and New York’s Second Stage, looking to partner with Mexico City theatres, and partnering with three smaller Los Angeles theatres a year to introduce their most successful shows to a wider audience.

In discussing his three theatres, Ritchie says that although each is distinct, he likes to think of them as “an umbrella.”

The Ahmanson “does both Broadway tours and pre-Broadway shows very well.” This month features the American premiere of choreographer Matthew Bourne’s Olivier Award–winning The Red Shoes. February brings a pre-Broadway production of the Tony Award–winning 1992 Broadway musical Crazy for You, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman.

CLICK HERE TO SEE A FULL LIST OF ANNOUNCED AND UPCOMING NATIONAL TOURS!

In May comes the world premiere of Soft Power, a new musical by Tony winners David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori, and directed by Leigh Silverman, described by the company as “a Chinese musical about present-day America.”

“The Mark Taper Forum,” Ritchie says, “has always been known as the heart and soul of the group, and I think we take the name ‘Forum’ very close to our hearts in that it should be a place for public discussion of either current social events or human nature or those things that either divide or bind us.”

Coming up at the Taper this month—beginning September 13—is Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Head of Passes, which stars Phylicia Rashad and is described by the company as “a contemporary parable inspired by the Book of Job.” Starting January 31 is Quiara Alegría Hudes’ 2012 Pulitzer Prize–winning Water by the Spoonful, which involves recovering addicts, an online chat room, and the Iraq war.

In the smaller Kirk Douglas, Ritchie says, “We have the ability to do more new plays, riskier plays. We can break out of the four walls, get a little edgier, a little more avant-garde. And we can attract the younger audience.”

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