Mike Nichols, 83: A prolific theater director who could do it all

Mike Nichols, 83: A prolific theater director who could do it all
Mike Nichols, shown in 2008, was a prolific theater director in addition to being an Oscar-winning filmmaker. (Patrick Kovarik / AFP / Getty Images)

From his popular act with Elaine May to his widely lauded directorial efforts on Broadway that netted him multiple Tony Awards, Mike Nichols was a giant of the New York theater scene -- a world he never abandoned despite his success in Hollywood.

Nichols, who died on Wednesday at 83, was a versatile theater director who could seemingly do it all -- from serious dramas to light comedies to big-budget musicals. He directed a young Robert Redford in a 1963 production of "Barefoot in the Park"; staged the U.S. premiere of "The Real Thing," with Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons in 1984; and directed the popular 2005 musical "Spamalot."


He lured frequent screen collaborator Meryl Streep back to the stage after a two-decade absence for a 2001 production of Chekhov's "The Seagull" in New York's Central Park. And he triumphed in 2012 with a Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield.

An actor's director if ever there was one, Nichols put performances front and center, avoiding any hint of a directorial stamp on his productions. This may have stemmed from his early career as a performer, including his popular comedy act with May.

The Nichols and May comedy duo began during their student days in Chicago in the 1950s and continued sporadically through the '60s.  They made albums, appeared on TV and even mounted a Broadway production in 1960. The improvisational nature of their acts was considered innovative at the time.

As a director, Nichols became a prime interpreter of Neil Simon, staging productions of "Barefoot," "The Odd Couple" and "Plaza Suite." In the movies, he directed the screen version of "Biloxi Blues," starring Matthew Broderick, in 1988.

His last directorial effort was a 2013 Broadway revival of Harold Pinter's "Betrayal," starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz.

Nichols directed a number of screen adaptations of notable plays, starting with his Hollywood debut, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in 1966, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

He later directed HBO versions of "Wit" and "Angels in America" and helmed a big-screen version of "Closer."

Shortly before he died, Nichols was reportedly working on a screen adaptation of Terrence McNally's "Master Class," with Streep expected to play Maria Callas.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT