George C. Wolfe
September 23, 1954
Frankfort, Kentucky, United States
Artistic director, Director, Theater administrator, Lyricist, Playwright, Producer
Playwright-director-producer George C Wolfe grew up in the segregated city of Frankfort, Kentucky and received an early exposure to Gotham at the tender age of 12, accompanying his mother while she was taking doctoral courses in education at New York University during the summer of 1967. He attended Broadway performances of "Hello, Dolly!" with Pearl Bailey and a revival of "West Side Story" which knocked him out and pointed him in the direction of his life's work. Escaping to California from Kentucky, he taught acting in addition to writing and directing for small theaters in the Los Angeles area before moving to NYC in 1979, eventually enrolling in the masters program in dramatic writing and musical theater at NYU. While at NYU, he started the play that would catch Papp's attention, "The Colored Museum." This stinging satire on black stereotypes opened to critical raves at the Public in 1986 although some within the black community were offended by the characters presented. After winning an OBIE for his direction of "Spunk" (1989-90), which he had adapted from three stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Wolfe earned his first Tony nominations for the book and direction of "Jelly's Last Jam" (1992), a musical about the life of jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton. He then became the first black director of a Broadway production that was not black-themed when he helmed Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about politics, AIDS and religion "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches," winning the 1993 Tony as Director of a Play. He picked up another Tony nomination the following year for staging the second part of Kushner's epic, "Angels in America: Perestroika," and garnered two more Tony nods in 1996 for helming "The Tempest," starring Patrick Stewart, and the Savion Glover dance musical "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk," winning for the latter. The magic ran out with his 1998 revival of "On the Town" when his controversial decision to replace Jerome Robbins' signature choreography came back to haunt him, and though critical response was slightly better for "The Wild Party" (2000), which he directed and co-scripted, it paled in comparison to his triumphs in the 90s. Wolfe became one of the Public's three resident directors in 1990 and replaced Papp's hand-picked successor JoAnne Akalaitis after her troubled 20-month tenure in 1993, becoming the only person besides Papp in the theater's history to hold the title of producer. In the first five years after taking over the theater's reins, he saw its endowments quadruple from $10 million to $40 million. Though criticized in some circles for championing his own projects more than the other works at the Public, Wolfe proved an able administrator, returning the institution to the black by 1995 after seven years of operating at a deficit. As producer, his decision to move "The Tempest" to Broadway for a limited run netted a modest $325,000, while moving "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk" to Broadway and the unprecedented decision to promote the show's national tour as well amounted to a huge windfall for America's most influential and powerful not-for-profit theater. After directing a successful revival of "On the Town," Wolfe wrote and directed "The Wild Party" and directed the one-woman smash "Elaine Stritch at Liberty." Wolfe returned to television and film infrequently but successfully, directing the TV movie "Lackawanna Blues" (2005), romance "Nights in Rodanthe" (2008), and tearjerker "You're Not You" (2013). (Wolfe also acted in a small role in the hit comedy "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006).) After directing well-received revivals of "Mother Courage and her Children" and "The Normal Heart," Wolfe wrote and directed acclaimed musical "Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed," one of the biggest hits of the 2015-16 Broadway season.