From La Jolla Playhouse to Broadway - A Brief History

Learn about productions that got their start at La Jolla Playhouse, including Jersey Boys, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and more.

By: Mar. 24, 2024
From La Jolla Playhouse to Broadway - A Brief History
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La Jolla Playhouse, one of the most celebrated regional theatres in the country, was founded in 1947 by Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, and Mel Ferrer. The Playhouse hosted over a decade of productions before going on hiatus from 1959-1982, and was revived in 1983 under the leadership of Des McAnuff

Since then, the playhouse has featured 120 world premieres and 36 productions that have transferred to Broadway. Some of the most successful Broadway productions that originated at La Jolla Playhouse include The Who's Tommy, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and many more.

Learn more about some of the Broadway productions that you may not have realized began their journey at La Jolla Playhouse! 


The Who's Tommy

The Who's Tommy opened at La Jolla Playhouse on 1 July 1992. The Who's Tommy is a rock musical based on the 1969 rock opera Tommy by The Who. It features music and lyrics by Pete Townshend and a book by Townshend and Des McAnuff. The La Jolla Playhouse production starred Michael Cerveris as Tommy, Marcia Mitzman Gaven as Mrs. Walker, Jonathan Dokuchitz as Captain Walker, and more.

The Who's Tommy began performances at Broadway's St. James Theatre on March 29, 1993. The show officially opened on April 22, 1993 and closed on June 17, 1995 after 899 performances. Cerveris, Mitzman, and Dokuchitz all reprised their roles from the La Jolla production on Broadway. The Who's Tommy won 1993 Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Musical for Des McAnuff, Best Choreography for Wayne Cilento, Best Original Score for Pete Townshend, Best Scenic Design for John Arnone, and Best Lighting Design for Chris Parry


Harmony

Harmony opened at La Jolla Playhouse in October 1997. The musical centers on the true story of the 1920s singing group, the Comedian Harmonists, and features music by Barry Manilow and book and lyrics by Bruce Sussman. The La Jolla Playhouse production starred Danny Burstein, Rebecca Luker, Patrick Wilson, and more. A Broadway production of Harmony was planned for 2004, but was cancelled. A Broadway production of Harmony opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in November 2023, and closed in February 2024. The production was directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, and starred Chip Zien, Sierra Boggess, Julie Benko, Allison Semmes, Andrew O’Shanick and Sean Bell, Danny Kornfeld, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman, and Steven Telsey as the Harmonists.


I Am My Own Wife 

I Am My Own Wife was first produced as a workshop at La Jolla Playhouse in July 2001. I Am My Own Wife is a one-person play by Doug Wright, based on his conversations with the German antiquarian Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. The play follows Mahlsdorf, who killed her father when she was a child, and survived the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin as a transgender woman. The play opened at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre on December 3, 2003 and ran through October 31, 2004.  Jefferson Mays starred in the Broadway production. The play won both the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the Tony Award for Best Play.


Thoroughly Modern Millie 

Thoroughly Modern Millie began performances at La Jolla Playhouse in October 2003. Based on the 1967 film, Thoroughly Modern Millie features music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Dick Scanlan, and a book by Richard Morris and Scanlan. The production starred Sutton Foster in the title role of Millie Dillmount. Thoroughly Modern Millie opened on Broadway on April 18, 2002. The production won six Tony Awards: Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Sutton Foster, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for Harriet Sansom Harris, Best Choreography for Rob Ashford, Best Orchestrations for Doug Besterman and Ralph Burns, and Best Costume Design for Martin Pakledinaz


Jersey Boys 

Jersey Boys opened at La Jolla Playhouse on October 17, 2004. A jukebox musical centered on the story of the 1960s rock and roll group The Four Seasons, Jersey Boys features a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and The Four Seasons' biggest hits, including "Big Girls Don't Cry", "Sherry", "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)", "My Eyes Adored You", "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", and many more. The La Jolla Playhouse production starred Christian Hoff as Tommy DeVito, David Norona as Frankie Valli, Daniel Reichard as Bob Gaudio, and J. Robert Spencer as Nick Massi. 

Jersey Boys began performances at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre on October 4, 2005, and officially opened on November 6, 2005. In the Broadway production, John Lloyd Young replaced David Norona as Frankie Valli. The production went on to win Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for John Lloyd Young, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for Christian Hoff, and Best Lighting Design of a Musical for Howell Binkley. Jersey Boys was the 13th-longest running Broadway show in history, running through January 15, 2017, and playing 4,642 performances.


Cry Baby 

Cry Baby premiered at La Jolla Playhouse on November 18, 2007. The musical is based on the 1990 John Waters film, and features music is by Adam Schlesinger, lyrics by David Javerbaum and a book is by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan. The La Jolla Playhouse production starred James Snyder, Harriet Harris, Elizabeth Stanley, and more. Cry Baby  began at Broadway's Marquis Theatre on March 15, 2008, and officially opened April 24, 2008. The production was nominated for four Tony Awards. 


Memphis 

Following productions at the North Shore Music Theatre and TheatreWorks, Memphis was staged at La Jolla Playhouse from August 2008 through September. The musical loosely based on the story of Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s. Memphis features music by Bon Jovi Keyboardist David Bryan, lyrics by Bryan and Joe DiPietro, and a book by DiPietro. The La Jolla Playhouse production starred Chad Kimball as Huey Calhoun alongside Montego Glover, James Monroe Iglehart, and more. 

Memphis began performances at Broadway's Shubert Theatre on September 23, 2009 and officially opened on October 19. The production starred Chad KimballMontego GloverDerrick Baskin, James Monroe IglehartMichael McGrath and more. The production won the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical for Joe DiPietro, Best Original Score for David Bryan and Joe DiPietro, and Best Orchestrations for Daryl Waters and David Bryan.


Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde premiered at La Jolla Playhouse in November 2009. Centered on the infmaous outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the musical features music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black and a book by Ivan Menchell. The cast featured Laura Osnes as Bonnie and Stark Sands as Clyde. Bonnie & Clyde began performances at Broadway's Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on November 4, 2011, and officially opened on on December 1, 2011. Jeremy Jordan starred as Clyde in the Broadway production. Bonnie & Clyde was nominated for two Tony Awards, and went on to have productions in the West End, and internationally. 


Come From Away 

Come From Away began performances at La Jolla Playhouse on May 29, 2015. The story is based on the events in the Newfoundland town of Gander during the week following the September 11 attacks, and features a book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. The La Jolla Playhouse production starred Chad KimballJenn ColellaCaesar SamayoaKendra Kassebaum and more (all reprised their roles on Broadway. The Broadway production began performances at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in February 2017, and ran until October 2022, landing it at number 50 on the list of longest running Broadway shows of all time. Come From Away won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for Christopher Ashley

From La Jolla Playhouse to Broadway - A Brief History


Indecent

Indecent began performances at La Jolla Playhouse (in a co-production with Yale Repertory Theatre) in November of 2015. The play, written by Paula Vogel, tells the story of the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch's play "God of Vengeance." The play explores themes of censorship, sexuality, and the power of art. The production starred Katrina LenkAdina Verson, Richard Topol, and more. Lenk, Verson, and Topol reprised their roles for the Broadway production. Indecent began performances at Broadway's Cort Theatre on April 4, 2017, and officially opened on April 18, 2017. The production won Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Play for Rebecca Taichman, and Best Lighting Design of a Play for Christopher Akerlind.


Lempicka

Originally commissioned by Yale Repertory Theatre and New Dramatists, Lempicka had labs and workshops, and premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2018, before it made its West Coast premiere on June 14, 2022 at La Jolla Playhouse. The production ran at La Jolla until July 24, 2022. The musical is based on the life of Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka, and features music by Matt Gould, lyrics by Carson Kreitzer, with a book by Gould and Kreitzer from an original concept by Kreitzer. The cast features Eden Espinosa in the title role of Tamara de Lempicka. Lempicka is currently in previews at Broadway's Longacre Theatre, and will officially open on April 14, 2024.

From La Jolla Playhouse to Broadway - A Brief History


The Outsiders 

The Outsiders played at La Jolla Playhouse from February 19 through April 9, 2023. Based on the novel by S.E. Hinton and Francis Ford Coppola’s film, the musical features book by Adam Rapp and music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay & Zach Chance) and Justin Levine. The Outsiders is currently in previews at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, and will officially open on April 11, 2024. The cast features Brody Grant as Ponyboy Curtis, Sky Lakota-Lynch as Johnny Cade, Joshua Boone as Dallas Winston, Brent Comer as Darrel Curtis, Jason Schmidt as Sodapop Curtis, Emma Pittman as Cherry Valance, Daryl Tofa as Two-Bit Mathews, Kevin William Paul as Bob Sheldon, and Dan Berry as Paul Holden.



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