avid Galligan's wide-ranging perspective on the entertainment industry encompasses acting, directing, producing, publicity, and reviewing. Since arriving in L.A. in 1957 with dreams of becoming a star, he has amassed experience in each of these disciplines. Now one of the city's most acclaimed and prolific stage directors, he once had a reputation as somewhat of a hatchet man during his years as a theatre critic for the defunct actors trade paper DramaLogue. He was the sort of critic who could cause actors and directors to cower in fear upon his arrival on opening night. Nowadays he admits he's a great admirer of actors and believes that they are often unappreciated. Either he has mellowed over the years or the breadth of his knowledge base has given him a more balanced viewpoint. Whatever the case, he says he is "very, very happy" with the way his career has turned out.
Though his eclectic résumé as a director includes credits as varied as Leslie Jordan's acclaimed autobiographical solo show Like a Dog on Linoleum and a Pasadena Playhouse staging of The Lion in Winter, starring Carole Cooke and Tom Troupe, Galligan is often associated with musicals (Blame It on the Movies!, Lullaby of Broadway). And his biggest claim to fame is the star-studded annual Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event concert series, the longest-running AIDS benefit. The series originated in 1984, when AIDS was known only as "a new disease killing gay men."
"Mine seems to be one of those stories of kismet," Galligan says. "I grew up in the avenues of San Francisco. I would go to the library and memorize Burns Mantle plays and learned how many performances such and such a show ran on Broadway and who was in it. I joined the Columbia Record Club and each month ordered albums like My Fair Lady and The Pajama Game. But I had never been to the theatre. I had all this interest in it, but nobody else in my family did. You grow up and follow your dream. Mine was to see Betty Hutton on my birthday in her one-person show, which was coming to town. But it was canceled. So my family took me instead to see Patricia Morison and Yul Brynner in The King and I, and from there I was hooked." Shortly thereafter, Galligan saw an audition listed for a group called the Opera Ring. He attended the tryout, for Kurt Weill's Street Scene. "They gave me the juvenile lead," notes Galligan, "and I was off and running." He decided to head for L.A.
He acted until age 28. Things began to change when he was playing a 14-year-old in a tour of the comedy The Impossible Years, starring George Gobel, and the plot revolved around Gobel's character figuring out who impregnated his daughter. Galligan remarks, "In the Chicago Sun Times, the critic said that in this production he would be more worried about leaving these young men with his son, not his daughter. I thought of that as a sign to get out of acting. I was at a party, and this couple that ran a paper said, 'Why don't you write for us?' So I did, and that job eventually led to my work at DramaLogue."
During his 15-year tenure at DramaLogue, Galligan joined the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, and then the next spoke in the wheel of his fate turned into place. At the now-defunct Variety Arts Theatre, he staged the Circle's annual awards show in 1984. "I was so green. I didn't know anything," he asserts. "We were honoring Robert Preston. I called Julie Andrews' press agent, and he said she'd be delighted to participate, and I got Charles Pierce to present the costume and makeup awards. I put a Sondheim revue together as entertainment."
To Galligan's surprise, the event was a huge success. He was approached by actor Michael Kearns and playwright James Carroll Pickett, who asked him to create a fundraiser for the mysterious new disease. "I talked to my friend Susan Obrow, and we put together the first STAGE show [in 1984]," says Galligan. The format of the show is a salute to a particular famous Broadway composer—such as Jerry Herman, Leonard Bernstein, and Johnny Mercer. Currently most of the events are held at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex on the California State University, Los Angeles, campus. Now there are two per year: the original AIDS benefit and STAGE II, which benefits The Actors' Fund of America. Major musical theatre stars donate their time to perform at the events. Galligan says everyone who participates in the shows, except the musicians and a full-time administrator, is a volunteer.
During the past two decades, Galligan has made a comfortable living as a full-time freelance director—one of very few who manage to do so in L.A. He has worked with Musical Theatre West (directing Carol Lawrence and Sally Struthers in Mame), East West Players, the Odyssey Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Celebration Theatre, La Mirada Theatre, and many others, some no longer in existence. He has also worked at Carnegie Hall and at regional theatres across the nation, and he stages various charity benefits in different cities. He is sought after as a writer-director of cabaret vehicles, such as Finding My Voice, which he is developing with and for Valarie Pettiford, to be presented at North Hollywood's El Portal Theatre in August. In fall 2005 he was honored with the Los Angeles Stage Alliance's Ovation Award for lifetime achievement.
He notes that he never stops learning. At one point, long after he was established as a director, he attended acting classes with instructor Howard Fine, ostensibly to observe. But Galligan ended up involved for a year. "I was just like a regular student," he marvels. "I'll be damned. I learned more in that year than I can tell you, because I got back to what the actor's problems are—seeing from their perspective. You never know enough about anything. I'll go in and sit with my sound designer, Phil Allen, because sound is mysterious to me. I want to figure out what makes it tick and how to make it better."
Galligan relishes the variety of his endeavors; it keeps things interesting. "How many of us get to say we get to do what we want in our profession?" he muses. He also keeps himself extremely busy. It's not just one project after another; they overlap. He reviews his itinerary for the remainder of this year: "We're trying out Valarie's show at the Gardenia this month. Leslie's show opens June 8 in San Francisco. On July 30, I'm doing a huge benefit at the Masonic Temple [in L.A.]. I'm currently working with Tyne Daly on her cabaret act and just finished working with Stefanie Powers on hers. I am also working on Lorenzo Lamas'. Then it's time for STAGE II, in the fall, and then I'm doing a Christmas show. In October I'm doing a new musical, called New World, at the Whitefire Theatre. Between all of this, I am trying to produce a couple of CDs." But he observes, "I don't think there's ever been a concentration on where the next job is coming from. I do think you often have to create your own work in this business."
He recently returned from a trip to New York to check out new shows and says he was comforted to learn that bad theatre can happen anywhere. "I didn't see anything but Sweeney Todd that I thought was remarkable," he says. "Lestat was really terrible." How harsh is this former critic on evaluating his own work? "When I first started directing, I would be walking the dog and have this imaginary audience in my head, and they would stand and scream, 'Bravo!' and then I'd go another two steps, and the same audience would say it stinks and hold their noses and leave. I realized I was doing things too much in terms of results. I don't want to think that way. I think of doing a show as birthing a baby. I hope everyone thinks the baby is pretty, but if they don't, it's always the best we can do."