Des McAnuff Biography

Des McAnuff photo


A native of Toronto, Canada, Des McAnuff began his career in the theatre as both a playwright and director. He first garnered acclaim for his play Leave It to Beaver Is Dead, written while he was a student at Ryerson University.

The original work won the Factory Lab Theatre Award in 1973. Two years later, it was performed at Toronto's Theatre Second Floor before legendary producer Joseph Papp brought it to New York.

This new version directed by McAnuff went on to collect the SoHo Arts Award for best off-Broadway play.

McAnuff relocated to New York City, where his career skyrocketed.

He directed the Obie Award-winning production of The Crazy Locomotive. In 1978, he co-founded the Dodger Theatre at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and directed the company's first production, Gimme Shelter, (which won a SoHo award) Holeville, How It All Began and Mary Stuart.

In 1983, McAnuff moved west to become artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse, where he remained until 1994. During his tenure there, the company won more than 200 awards for excellence including the 1993 Tony for Outstanding Regional Theatre.

Committed to both the classics and new plays and musicals, McAnuff directed many productions for the playhouse.

At La Jolla, he developed the original musical Big River, which won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical and best director.

Working with composer Pete Townsend, he also developed, and co-wrote a new book and directed the acclaimed adaptation of The Who's Tommy, also taking it to the Great White Way, where it won five Tonys.

He also staged the musical in London and Toronto. His most recent Broadway triumph was the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, for which star Matthew Broderick won a Tony Award.

McAnuff has directed for the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard, Yale Rep and the Stratford Festival of Canada.

He continues as Director-in-Residence at La Jolla and is a former faculty member of the Juilliard School and the University of California, San Diego.

Before making his feature debut with Cousin Bette, McAnuff directed a 30-minute short entitled Bad Dates, which starred Nancy Travis as a kindergarten teacher who stops eating and the impact this has on her students.

He also produced last year's critically-acclaimed animated feature The Iron Giant.


The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000)
Cousin Bette (1998)

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