The showcase for the Four SeasonsÂ tunes won a Tony for best… (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)
"Memphis," which took home the Tony for best musical Sunday, is the latest awards juggernaut to emerge from the La Jolla Playhouse, the San Diego County theater company that has had an enviable track record of turning out Tony-winning (and -nominated) hits.
A crowd-pleaser about race relations and '50s-era R&B, "Memphis" opened at La Jolla in 2008 in a production directed by Christopher Ashley, the company's artistic director. (The musical was previously co-produced by the North Shore Music Theatre and TheatreWorks in 2003-04.)
After the La Jolla run, "Memphis" was staged at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, also directed by Ashley, before opening in October at the Shubert Theatre, where it continues to play.
After the ceremony, Ashley said "Memphis" benefited greatly from its productions at La Jolla and Seattle. He said the show underwent significant revisions, both structurally and musically, before transferring to Broadway.
"Audience talk-backs were helpful, and we threw away a few songs and rewrote quite a lot. After Seattle, we threw away two more songs and built new sets and costumes for Broadway," Ashley said.
Past productions or workshops at La Jolla that went on to Tony glory include "Jersey Boys," which won for best musical in 2006; "I Am My Own Wife," best play in 2004; "Thoroughly Modern Millie," best musical in 2002; and " The Who's Tommy," which garnered Des McAnuff an award for best director of a musical in 1993.
In addition, the company has staged "700 Sundays," Billy Crystal's solo show that won the 2005 Tony for special event; "33 Variations," nominated last year for best play; and a revival of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" in 1995, which won Matthew Broderick a Tony for lead actor in a musical.
Many of La Jolla's past wins were part because of to the leadership of McAnuff, who headed the company for many years before stepping down in 2007. Under his direction, the company grew in commercial stature and gained national recognition for nurturing Broadway-caliber plays and musical.
The company's next big production with Broadway potential is a musical adaptation of the Oscar-winning film "Little Miss Sunshine," which will debut at La Jolla in February.