Gordon Davidson, who tapped into Los Angeles’ vast pool of talent as no other stage producer before him, died Sunday. He was 83. The man who made the Center Theatre Group and the Mark Taper Forum among the country’s foremost cultural platforms was remembered by Hollywood today as a man of dedication to the arts, kindness to colleagues and an infectious “faith in theater.”
Davidson, who’ll be remembered for giving a voice to the disenfranchised and often overlooked members of society with such landmark shows as Zoot Suit, The Shadow Box and Angels in America, founded the Taper in 1967 and served as artistic director from until 2005. During that period, his contributions to the West Coast theater scene — and its influence across the country — cannot be overstated. He oversaw and directed numerous productions and special projections for the venue and launched Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning plays such as The Kentucky Cycle and Angels in America. He also received a Tony nom for his directing of Children of a Lesser God.
Davidson nurtured producing talent like Oskar Eustis, who was the Taper’s associate artistic director from 1989 to 1994 and now head’s New York’s Public Theater. Zoot Suit, by playwright Luis Valdez, is a pioneering work in the theater’s Chicano Movement, and the Davidson-directed production of Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God was groundbreaking in its depiction and casting of the deaf.
Here are some tributes:
“Gordon Davidson was one of the most renowned and respected artistic directors in regional theatre, in large part because he was one of the original founders of the entire concept,” wrote Michael Ritchie, Center Theatre Group Artistic Director, on the group’s website. “He led Center Theatre Group for 38 years and produced one of the broadest arrays of plays, particularly new plays, of any theatre in the country. Without his prolific vision for Center Theatre Group 50 years ago, the theatrical landscape in Los Angeles, and the country, would be very different. He remains one of theatre’s great leaders and I was proud to call him a mentor, friend and colleague.”
In 1977, the Brooklyn native won a best director Tony for The Shadow Box, which also won the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony for Best Play for its author, Michael Cristofer. The play was later adapted into a television movie directed by a Paul Newman in 1980.
In addition to his role at the Taper, Davidson was the producing director of the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre for 15 years and the artistic director at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. In January 2000 he was inducted in to the Theater Hall of Fame on Broadway.
Davidson is survived by his wife Judi, their two children and five granddaughters.
Jeremy Gerard and Greg Evans contributed to this report.
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