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Remembering Terrence McNally


(L–R) Richard Thomas and Nathan Lane in the West Coast premiere of Terrence McNally’s "The Lisbon Traviata" at the Taper.

Photo by Jay Thompson.

Center Theatre Group was lucky enough to bring Los Angeles audiences a number of works from the great playwright Terrence McNally at both the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre. Some of the most talented actors in the world spoke his words on our stages, including Nathan Lane and Richard Thomas in The Lisbon Traviata and Audra McDonald and Zoe Caldwell in Master Class.

In 1969, McNally’s Botticelli was part of our New Theatre for Now season, the first iteration of new play development at Center Theatre Group. We also hosted his one-act play Next, which was an Off-Broadway hit for McNally, director Elaine May, and star James Coco.

In 1988, the Taper hosted the West Coast premiere of McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, featuring Kathy Bates and Kenneth Welsh in the title roles. “We’ve waited too long to have a McNally play on our boards,” wrote Founding Artistic Director Gordon Davidson in the program. “A play about trust and commitment, Frankie and Johnny is also about the joy of an unexpected second chance. Having watched Terrence's career blossom over the years, it’s nice to be back at work with an old friend.”

The wait for another McNally play was not long, as he was back at the Taper in 1990 with another West Coast premiere: The Lisbon Traviata, directed by John Tillinger and featuring Richard Thomas and Nathan Lane as friends and fellow opera lovers who are also gay. “‘The fact that the men are gay is a given,’” Lane told the Los Angeles Times. “‘The play is not a treatise about gays. It goes way beyond that. It’s about anybody living in these times.’”

In 1992, McNally made his Ahmanson season debut with a hilarious look at a Broadway opening night in It’s Only a Play, also directed by Tillinger and produced at the Doolittle Theatre and featuring a revised script and a cast including David Hyde Pierce. McNally, Tillinger, and Lane converged at the Taper again for the 1993 production of McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart, and in 1995 McNally returned to the Taper with the pre-Broadway production of Master Class. Zoe Caldwell and Audra McDonald went on to win Tony Awards® for their portrayals of opera singer Maria Callas and a young student.

Two musicals featuring McNally as book writer also appeared at the Ahmanson: the 1996 production of Kiss of the Spider Woman starring Chita Rivera in the title role and the 2002 production of The Fully Monty.

We feel lucky to have been a part of so many important moments in a legendary career.

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