The Broadway company of The Humans is receiving rave reviews from critics and audiences alike for their performances at the Ahmanson Theatre (June 19 – July 29, 2018). And while The Humans may be the only straight play in this 2017/18 Season, this uproarious, hopeful, and heartbreaking work is carrying on a tradition that dates back to Center Theatre Group’s origins. For over 50 years, the finest—and most famous—actors in the world have appeared in plays at the Ahmanson. Here are just a handful of the great plays and beloved talents who have graced our stage in dramas, comedies, and classics.
Center Theatre Group’s very first show at the Ahmanson brought Ingrid Bergman back to the American stage after an absence of more than 20 years. More Stately Mansions headed to Broadway 10 days after its Ahmanson run (September 12 – October 21, 1967), directed by Jose Quintero and also starring Arthur Hill and Colleen Dewhurst (who received a Tony Award® nomination for Best Actress in a Play).
The 25TH anniversary revival of A Streetcar Named Desire (March 20 – April 28, 1973) brought
two of America’s greatest young stars, Jon Voight and Faye Dunaway, to the Ahmanson stage,wrote Managing Director Robert Fryer in the program. The production
had all the heart I ever invested in a work for the theatre or screen,Williams reflected.
All involved in this revival make theatre worth living again for a playwright and audiences, too.
Charlton Heston and Vanessa Redgrave starred as the Macbeths in Heston’s second star turn (of six) at the Ahmanson. It took over two years to bring together this all-star team—juggling Heston and Redgrave’s busy film schedules as well as that of director Peter Wood—at the Ahmanson for its January 28 – March 8, 1975 run.
Academy Award®-winning screenwriter George Seaton (Miracle on 34TH Street), who served for many years as Executive Vice President of Center Theatre Group, commissioned the young playwright Ernest Thompson (On Golden Pond) to write a new work for the Ahmanson that became The West Side Waltz. Katharine Hepburn starred as an aging pianist in the World premiere (January 21 – March 14, 1981), and earned a Tony nomination after the production moved to Broadway in the fall.
Elizabeth Taylor received a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, which headed immediately to the Ahmanson three weeks after closing in New York, playing in Los Angeles September 25 – December 5, 1981.
You wouldn’t know it was [Taylor’s] first play. She’s relaxed. She moves with confidence. She listens to the other actors,wrote the Los Angeles Times of her performance alongside Maureen Stapleton.
Matthew Broderick starred in the World premiere of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs (December 10, 1982 – January 29, 1983). It was one of 14 of Simon’s works, including six World premieres, to appear at the Ahmanson, and one of eight directed by Gene Saks, who won a Tony Award for the Broadway engagement that followed. Broderick also won a Tony for his portrayal of Eugene Jerome, a character he reprised at the Ahmanson in the 1984/85 World premiere of Biloxi Blues and again at our 50TH Anniversary Celebration in 2017.
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby
Los Angeles Times theatre critic Dan Sullivan called The Royal Shakespeare Company in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby,
a theatrical journey the likes of which this reviewer has not taken before.Ahmanson audiences spent the summer of 1986 (June 15 – August 9) on this epic ride, which lasted over 510 minutes (or, 8.5 hours), not including a break for dinner. The heroic cast featured 36 actors portraying over 130 characters under the direction of Trevor Nunn and John Caird.
Following her triumphant appearance as Alexandra del Lago in the London and Australian productions of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, Lauren Bacall is re-creating this role for the United States with an entirely new American cast and production,declared Bacall’s program biography, which (with a stunning photo) encompassed an entire page. Fully appropriate considering that Bacall was an aging film star playing an aging film star in the December 5, 1986 – January 25, 1987 run at the Ahmanson.
Center Theatre Group partnered with regional theatres around the country to help develop seven of August Wilson’s American Century Cycle plays beginning in the 1980s through Wilson’s death in 2005. Seven Guitars traveled to Connecticut, Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco before heading to the Ahmanson January 17 – March 10, 1996; its first Broadway preview was March 17. Seven Guitars featured an all-star cast of Center Theatre Group favorites including Keith David, Viola Davis, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson (who won a Tony on Broadway).
After a heralded Broadway run including three Tony Awards, stars Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden reunited at the Ahmanson under director Matthew Warchus for the West Coast premiere of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage (April 5 – May 29, 2011). The production broke every box office record ever set for a play at the Ahmanson, selling 97,567 tickets and grossing nearly $8 million in eight weeks.
The legendary Cicely Tyson—after a 30-year absence from the stage—reprised her 2013 Tony Award-winning Broadway performance alongside Vanessa Williams and Blair Underwood in the critically acclaimed revival of Pulitzer Prize winner Horton Foote’s American masterpiece at the Ahmanson (September 17 – November 2, 2014).
A month after The Trip to Bountiful closed, another legendary actress arrived at the Ahmanson: Angela Lansbury playing a medium in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, directed by Michael Blakemore (December 9, 2014 – January 18, 2015). Lansbury had won a Tony Award in 2009 in the role, and decided to take it on the road in the year before she turned 90!
But wait, there’s more! Check out our timeline for the many iconic plays and screen and stage stars we couldn’t fit on this list…