Center Theatre Group Artistic Director Snehal Desai Talks 2024-2025 Lineup, Including Sutton Foster in ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

In April 2023, Snehal Desai took on the mantle of Artistic Director for Center Theatre Group (CTG), one of the world’s largest and most prestigious theater companies. Though he became active in programming right away, the recently unveiledd 2024/25 CTG season will mark his first full season at the helm. CTG encompasses three theater spaces: the Ahmanson and Mark Taper Forum in downtown Los Angeles and the more intimate Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. The new season — planned with Desai and managing director/CEO Meghan Pressman and producing director Douglas C. Baker — is dubbed “One CTG. One LA.”

In addition the fresh-from-Broadway production of “Once Upon a Mattress” starring Sutton Foster, the line-up includes a full return of the Mark Taper Forum following a hiatus and Desai’s CTG directorial debut. We spoke to Desai about the state of arts in L.A., how actors can get involved and what to expect from the new season.

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Theatre is still a vital part of L.A. culture.
Prior to CTG, Desai was producing director of East West Players, the nation’s largest and oldest Asian American theatre company, so he’s more than familiar with the changing tides of the world of the arts, particularly post-pandemic. Shortly after he joined CTG, programming was paused at the Mark Taper Forum in June 2023. “But that year offered us an opportunity to really change things up,” he notes. That’s when they created an initiative called CTG: FWD (pronounced “forward”) that brought in special events such as “Alex Edelman’s Just for Us” and various workshops and summits.

CTG:FWD will continue programming in the 2024-25 season with several special events including The 7 Fingers production of “Duel Reality,” which mixes circus acts and illusions to tell a story inspired by “Romeo and Juliet.” It will play the Ahmanson beginning Sept. 11. Other shows include two plays from TheatreWorksUS:, “Cat Kid Comic Club: The Musical” and an encore return of their bilingual musical “El Otro Oz” that will play at the Kirk Douglas in 2025.

CTG has been unable to plan a full season for the 317-seat Kirk Douglas in Culver City due to an ongoing construction project in an adjacent lot that is currently set to last into 2025. But it is still used for special events and it’s intimate setting makes it perfect for the family-friendly TheatreWorksUSA shows.

The Mark Taper Forum will be back in full force.
After a hiatus, the Mark Taper, a nearly 800-seat theater with a thrust stage, will be back in full. Its season will kick off in October with a new production of the Green Day musical “American Idiot” in conjunction with the prestigious Deaf West Theatre. The show will be directed by Desai himself. 

Desai had always planned to make his CTG directing debut, but originally thought he might wait a season or two. But as he was looking at projects, he listened to “American Idiot” and realized this year was the 20th anniversary of the album. “It has such a resonance at the moment, especially in the Fall as we have the election,” he notes. The more he thought about it, the more he couldn’t shake it. “There’s a certain point where you start to imagine it and envision it and things start to coalesce in your head. That was the indicator that I was looking at it not just as a producer or artistic director, but as a director.”

Though it’s his first time directing for Deaf West, he knows their artistic director DJ Kurs quite well and is a longtime fan of their work. “One of the first things I saw when I moved to L.A. over 10 years ago was their ‘Spring Awakening,’” he says of the show that began in a small black box before eventually going to Broadway. “Within two minutes, I knew I was experiencing something so special.”

Deaf West uses both Deaf and hearing actors in their productions with all the performers performing American Sign Language (ASL), which becomes an integral part of the show and its choreography. “I love this merging of a physical vocabulary with a textual one,” Desai says.

“American Idiot” will be followed at the Taper by the comedy “Fake It Until You Make It,” a world premiere from playwright Larissa FastHorse, directed by Michael John Garcés. “Fake It,” which was commissioned by CTG, was originally set to be staged last year before the Taper paused its season and will now open Jan. 29, 2025. FastHorse is also the writer of the hit Broadway comedy “The Thanksgiving Play,” and “Fake It” is a co-production with Arena Stage. After premiering in L.A., it will move on to Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

Opening May 28, 2025, and closing out the season at the Taper will be a classic – William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” – but with a new adaptation and direction by Robert O’Hara, the Tony-nominated director of “Slave Play.” It’s a lovely full-circle moment for him and the theater as that show was the first one to grace the Taper stage upon its return from the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2022. That production was a huge hit, grossing nearly $1.4 million in five weeks – a box office record for the Taper.

“Robert is a visionary, singular director and I’m really interested to see what he’s going to do,” Desai says. While he say the production will be true to the play and in verse, “it’s also going to be kind of a forensic analysis of passion and connected to Hollywood, so he’s going to have a Hitchcockian, David Lynch-inspired take on it.” Desai also says it will have a film noir flair and echoes O’Hara promise: “There will be blood.”

Broadway will shine bright at the Ahmanson.
The 2,000-seat Ahmanson Theatre has long been a place for grand spectacle, which makes it a perfect home to many shows coming from Broadway. In fact, June will see the recent Tony-winning best musical “A Strange Loop” in June before the new season kicks off.

But the first show of the Ahmanson’s new season will be a Broadway transfer of “Once Upon a Mattress” starring two-time Tony winner Foster. Foster recently performed the production, a musical based on the fairly tale “The Princess and the Pea,” as part of New York City Center Encores! Now the show will do a limited Broadway run in July and August before coming to Los Angeles beginning Dec. 10. It’s the first time the actor has been on the Ahmanson stage since 2005’s “The Drowsy Chaperone.”  Says Desai, “Obviously, she knows L.A., our audiences love her and we’re so excited to have her back. It also continues our relationship with Encores! who brought their production of ‘Into the Woods’ to us last year.” Like that latter production, “Mattress” will also feature a full orchestra on stage.

And audiences will have a rare chance to see a show that’s Broadway-bound when “Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends” makes its North American debut (following a run in London’s West End) at the Ahmanson starting Feb. 8, 2025. “It’s a revue of Sondheim’s work and one of the last things he worked on with Cameron Mackintosh and his team,” Senai reveals. “So it’s obviously very poignant, and there’s going to be a good cross-section of Sondheim’s works including some iconic numbers.” The show will go on to open on Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club in March.

“Old Friends” will be followed by a pair of recent Tony Award winners from Broadway. “Parade” hits the Ahmanson on June 17. The musical tells the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish man wrongly arrested for a crime in 1915 Georgia and his wife Lucille’s fight to exonerate him. The book is by Pulitzer Prize winner Alfred Uhry, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Browne.

That will be followed with “Life of Pi,” based on Yann Martel’s bestseller, directed by Max Webster and with an adaptation by Lolita Chakrabarti. The show, arriving May 7, 2025, won acclaim for telling the story of a man trapped on a raft with a tiger for its creative puppetry and staging, and walked away with three Tony Awards last year for its design. 

Keep abreast of casting calls on the CTG website.
Obviously, there is no shortage of talent in Los Angeles and CTG is looking to cast locally. Notes Desai, “We have an amazing talent pool in L.A., and we want them to call CTG home.” To that end, he urges performers to regularly check the website for casting calls at as well as their social media channels.

Casting notices are already posted for “American Idiot,” “Fake It,” “Hamlet” and “Old Friends.” Though they no longer have in-house casting, they are working with independent casting directors for each production. “So come out, introduce yourselves to us,” Desai urges. And while the shows are all Equity, he notes that you don’t have to be an Equity member. “If you’re not Equity and you get cast, we do have a contract we can offer you,” he states.

As a director himself, Desai says he is looking for actors who will be “open and game in the rehearsal room” – meaning, how well they take notes and if they’re able to pivot with direction. Mostly, he wants actors to remember to be themselves. “Oftentimes you’re trying to determine what you think the director wants, other than just being yourself,” he says. “And the folks who come in and blow us away are the ones who stay authentic and true to themselves.”

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