African-American playwright, director and producer George C. Wolfe is widely known for directing Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” (1993) and the musical “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk” (1996), starring Savion Glover. For his efforts, he took home two Tony Awards. He also won an Obie Award after directing the off-Broadway production “Spunk” (1989). Other notable credits include the Obba Babatunde starring musical “Jelly’s Last Jam” (1991), “Angels in America: Perestroika (1993, earned a Tony nomination) and “The Tempest” (1996, received a Tony nomination).
One of Broadway’s most appreciated producers and directors, Mr. Wolfe recently gained acclaim with his television movie direction for HBO’s Lackawanna Blues (2005). He netted a Black Reel Award and a Directors Guild of America Award, as well as an Emmy and an Image nomination for his fine work in the film.
Tony award-winning director Wolfe was one of NYC’s Public Theater’s three resident directors in 1990, and in 1993. He replaced Joseph Papp’s selected successor, Joanne Akalaitis, following her troubled 20-month tenure. Wolfe became the only person besides Papp in the theater’s history to have the title of producer. On a more private note, Wolfe is openly homosexual.
Childhood and Family:
In Frankfort, Kentucky, George C. Wolfe was born on September 23, 1954, to Anna Wolfe, a teacher (died of heart disease in 1996), and Costello Wolfe, who worked for Frankfort’s Department of Corrections. As a young child, he was sent to an all-black private school at which his mother was a principal, and later, after a family move, enrolled in the integrated Frankfort public school district. There, he directed and performed in several plays as well as wrote poetry and prose for the literary journal.
Upon graduating, George attended the historically-black Kentucky State University, in Frankfort, Kentucky, but transferred to Pomona College in Claremont, California, after his first year. He graduated with a B.A in directing in 1976. He earned a M.F.A in Dramatic Writing/Musical Theatre from New York University in 1983.
Angels in America
Frankfort, Kentucky, born and raised George C. Wolfe arrived in New York City for the first time when he was 13, accompanying his mother while she was working on her doctorate in education at NYU. With a B.A in theater under his belt, he headed to Los Angeles and found himself teaching acting while writing and directing plays for small theaters before finally moving to Gotham in 1979. There, Wolfe taught acting at City College of New York and the Richard Allen Center for Cultural Art, in addition to pursuing a master’s degree at his parents’ alma mater, NYU.
In 1985, Wolfe wrote for the Playwrights Horizons-produced musical “Paradise,” which was considered a flop, and went on to experience another disappointment in the following year with “The Colored Museum.” Though it opened to rave reviews at the Public Theatre’s Susan Stein Shiva Theatre, it was reported that many actors rejected the idea of auditioning for roles. Wolfe’s luck started to change in 1989 when he directed the Off-Broadway play “Spunk,” which he had adapted from three stories by Zora Neale Hurston. Produced at L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum, the play brought the director an Obie award. Produced at L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum, “Spunk” was restaged at NYC’s Public Theater the next year. Still in 1989, he also penned the 30-minute comedy “Hunger Chic,” helmed by Buck Henry, and it aired as part of the PBS’ anthology series “Trying Times.”
1991 saw Wolfe produce “Blackout,” appear as himself in the docudrama Finding Christa, as well as serve as co-director for “The Colored Museum” for PBS’ “Great Performance.” However, the director-playwright did not gain national recognition until he wrote and staged the biographical musical “Jelly’s Last Jam.” Starring Obba Babatunde as the jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton, the play debuted at L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum in 1991 and moved to Broadway in the following year, where it collected 11 Tony nominations, including one for Best Book of a Musical and Best Director of a Musical. He further built a good reputation two years later by receiving a Tony for his direction of 1993’s “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches,” Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about AIDS, politics and religion. With the production, Wolfe made a name for himself as the first black director of a Broadway play that was not black-themed. He also helmed “Fires in the Mirror” (1993), the second half of Kushner’s epic “Angels in America: Perestroika (1993, earned a 1994 Tony nomination for Best Direction of a Play), the NYSF production of Oliver Mayer’s “Blade to the Heat” (1994) and “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992” (1994), as well as served as the producer of Michael John LaChiusa’s musical “The Petrified Prince” (1995).
Wolfe’s next breakthrough arrived in 1996 when he picked up his second Tony for his outstanding directing in the Savion Glover dance musical “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk.” He also nabbed his next Tony nomination for directing 1996’s “The Tempest,” which starred Patrick Stewart. Next, he worked in the Public’s Central Park revival of “On the Town” (1997, as director), Arthur Miller’s “The Ride Down Mt. Morgan” (1998, as producer), “The Wild Party” (2000, as director and co-writer) and “Topdog/Underdog” (2001, as director), not to mention his direction in a new translation of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children” and Tony Kushner’s “Caroline, or Change.”
Already popular as a stage director, in 2005, Wolfe attracted public attention with his feature directorial debut, the well-received HBO original film Lackawanna Blues, starring S. Epatha Merkerson and Marcus Carl Franklin. For his bright effort, Wolfe was handed a Black Reel for Best Director – Television and a Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television. He also earned an Independent Spirit nomination for Best First Feature, an Image nomination for Outstanding Directing in a Feature Film/Television Movie and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special.
Wolfe will direct and write the upcoming Untitled Kanye West Project (2007).