Broadway, TV, and film director Robert Allan Ackerman died January 10. He was 77.
Mr. Ackerman developed his craft while working at the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater in the late 1970s directing works by Thomas Babe and others. He made his Broadway debut with Bent in 1979, starring Richard Gere and David Dukes, before helming a string of works in the ‘80s.
The auteur won the Outer Critics’ Circle and Lucille Lortel Award for directing John Byrne’s Slab Boys, starring Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Val Kilmer. He followed that with William Mastrosimone’s Extremities, starring Susan Sarandon. Later, he directed a separate West End production of the play starring Helen Mirren.
He then directed Peter Allen in Legs Diamond on Broadway. Harvey Fierstein, who co-wrote the book for the musical, remembered Mr. Ackerman for his work on the London premiere of Torch Song Trilogy, starring the late Antony Sher in a Facebook post.
The director’s most recent Broadway credit is the Al Pacino-led 1992 production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome. Mr. Ackerman worked again with the Oscar winner in 2017 in a Los Angeles production of God Looked Away. “I love Bob. I loved being around him, his aurora, his steady peace,” said Pacino. “To work with him was joyous. He understood the language of theatre art and communicated it with such ease. His gift was intangible and there’s no way of understanding how he created. When an artist has that special gift it is unexplainable, it just happens. When he stopped directing, he started writing again and his writing also had that same magic. He will be missed.”
In addition to his work stateside, Mr. Ackerman directed several West End productions in London, including A Madhouse in Goa, starring Vanessa Redgrave, and Burn This, starring John Malkovich and Juliet Stevenson. He had also had a career in Japan, where he brought Western works to the stage, including Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
Mr. Ackerman was born June 30, 1944 in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Adelphi University, teaching in Harlem for several years before joining an Off-Broadway troupe and soon discovering his love for working behind-the-scenes.
While the director often stayed close to the theatre, Mr. Ackerman did achieve success with screen work, too. He earned five Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations for projects like Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, David's Mother, and Double Platinum.
He is survived by his sister, Suzanne Ackerman, and his niece, Jennifer Lehman Cashman.