Spotlight on Tom O'Horgan 

Christopher Borg 

Tom O'Horgan
2006 Artistic Achievement Award recipient

Tom O’Horgan
May 3, 1924 – January 11, 2009

This month, Off-Off Broadway said goodbye to one of its originators and most famous innovators, Tom O'Horgan. An original Caffe Cino pioneer, theatre and film director, composer, actor and musician, O’Horgan was a superstar of the Indie Theatre world, if ever there was one. O’Horgan’s biography is a history of breaking new theatrical ground. After receiving his degree from DePaul University, Chicagoan and Second City alum Tom O’Horgan came to New York and immersed himself in the early Off-Off Broadway experimental theatre, supporting himself with a night club act consisting of improv comedy while playing the harp.

His Off-Off Broadway roots began with "Love and Vexations" at the legendary Caffe Cino in September of 1963, after which he composed for "To the Water Tower," "When the Owl Screams," and "The Wrecking Ball" and directed "Masked Men," "Birdbath," "Futz!," "Tom Paine," "The Maids," and "The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria," at La Mama Experimental Theater Club, which showcased his witty and highly-physical approach to theater. A highly imaginative and talented musician and performer, O’Horgan celebrated the concept of a “total theater,” combining acrobatics, dance, mime and music with text and storytelling. A protégé of Ellen Stewart, La Mama’s founder, by 1968 he had directed about 50 plays, films and happenings.

O’Horgan won three Drama Desk Awards for his direction Off-Broadway and was named Theatrical Director of the Year by Newsweek in 1968, the year he made his Broadway directorial debut and created Broadway history with the mind-blowing-hippie-celebration- political-happening-musical, "Hair," for which he received a Tony Award nomination.

By 1971, O’Horgan had four shows running on Broadway at the same time and the exciting spirit of downtown theatrical innovation he brought with him would forever leave a mark on the New York theatre scene, uptown and downtown.

O’Horgan went on to direct the Broadway productions of "Lenny," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Dude," "Inner City," "The Leaf People," and "I Won’t Dance" and in 1974 conceived and directed a stage adaptation of the Beatles‘ classic recording “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” He directed and composed the score for the screen adaptation of "Futz!" as well as directing the film version of Eugene Ionesco‘s "Rhinoceros" with Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder and Karen Black.

In 2006, Tom O’Horgan was handed the Artistic Achievement Award by his dear friend Ben Vereen, an actor he helped discover, in recognition of his significant contributions to Off-Off-Broadway. Tom O’Horgan died on January 11th in Venice, Florida, in the care of his friends, ending years of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. His work and his life have shaped the artistic history of this community and although he will be missed, he will not be forgotten.


New York Times article about Tom
Tom O'Horgan, director of original 'Hair,' dies - Associated Press, 1/12/09
Tom O'Horgan has left the city - by Shay Gines
Robert Patrick shares a memory of Tom O'Horgan


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