Family & Companions
This acclaimed stage actor and director has lately been delving into films as well. Born in Germany, Zaks was appearing on the New York stage by the mid-1970s. The curly-haired, diminutive actor made a splash as Kenicke in the long-running hit musical "Grease" and subsequently alternated between musicals and plays, including "Once in a Lifetime" (1977), "Tintypes" (1980), Lanford Wilson's "Talley's Folly" (1982) and "Isn't It Romantic?" (1983). In 1994, he made a rare return to acting, handling the title role in of a concert version of "Fiorello!" (1994). His film acting career has consisted mostly of cameos in "Outrageous Fortune" (1987), Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989) and "Husbands and Wives" (1992). Zaks has also acted in the TV-movies "Attica" (ABC, 1980), "The Gentleman Bandit" (CBS, 1981) and "The Wall" (CBS, 1982).
But it is as a director that Zaks has become better known. His first New York show was Christopher Durang's "Beyond Therapy" (1981). A year later, he garnered praise and had a big success with the double bill of Durang's "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You" and "The Actor's Nightmare." He has specialized in darkly humorous, wacky, almost vaudeville-style comedies and musical revivals, winning Tony Awards for his staging of John Guare's "The House of Blue Leaves" (1986), Ken Ludwig's farcical "Lend Me a Tenor" (1989), Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation" (1991) and an acclaimed revival of the Frank Loesser-Abe Burrows-Jo Swerling classic "Guys and Dolls" (1992). A font of energy, Zaks has also directed Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins" (1990), Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" (1994), shaped the revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe" (1995), a popular revival of Sondheim's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1996) and many other shows, hits and flops alike. He has won particular praise for his handling of actors and many have earned awards and/or some of the best reviews of their careers in one of his productions. Among them are John Mahoney and Swoosie Kurtz ("House of Blue Leaves"), Stockard Channing ("Six Degrees of Separation"), Philip Bosco ("Lend Me a Tenor") and Patti LuPone ("Anything Goes"). He has directed Nathan Lane to acclaim in three productions, "Guys and Dolls," "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" and "Forum," which earned a Tony for the actor.
In 1996, Zaks' career took a sharply different turn as he directed his first feature film. Based on Scott McPherson's play, the warm comedy-drama "Marvin's Room" starred Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton as long-estranged sisters who are reunited when one is diagnosed with leukemia. The film also boasted a strong supporting cast including Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hume Cronyn and Gwen Verdon.
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Began acting with Ensemble Studio Theater, New York
Played Kenicke in the long-running musical "Grease"
Visiting professor at Dartmouth College
Co-starred in the stage musical "Tintypes"
First TV appearance, in "Attica" (ABC)
New York debut as director, "Beyond Therapy"
First big hit as director, the double bill of one-act plays, "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You" and "The Actor's Nightmare", both by Christopher Durang
Directed touring company of "Tintypes"
Served as dialogue coach for film "Private School"
Was again visiting professor at Dartmouth
Made Broadway debut as director, "The House of Blue Leaves", a revival of John Guare's comedy
Directed first musical revival, Cole Porter's "Anything Goes"
First film appearance, in "Outrageous Fortune"
Hired by Jujamcin Theaters as a consultant
Had biggest stage success as director with the revival of "Guys and Dolls", starring Peter Gallagher, Nathan Lane and Faith Prince
Staged the revival of the Larry Gelbart-Stephen Sondheim musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", starring Nathan Lane
Directed first feature film, "Marvin's Room", adapted from the off-Broadway play and starring Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro
Oversaw the production of the ill-fated Broadway musical "The Capeman", composed by Paul Simon
Experienced another flop with the musical "The Civil War"
Directed the stage comedy "Epic Proportions", starring Kristen Chenoweth
Staged the Broadway revival of "The Man Who Came to Dinner", starring Nathan Lane
Directed the Neil Simon comedy "45 Seconds from Broadway"