His play Leave It To Beaver Is Dead was produced by Joseph Papp and directed by McAnuff for the New York Shakespeare Festival's Public Theatre. It received the SoHo Arts Award for best off-Broadway play in the 1978-9 season. McAnuff staged Henry V, Part One for Papp in Central Park and was awarded a Rockefeller grant for his play, The Death Of Von Richthofen As Witnessed From Earth, which he directed at the Public Theatre (Villager Award).
He received the Tony Award for his Broadway staging of Big River in 1985 which won seven Tony Awards including Best Musical. In 1993, Des was honored with the Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Award as Best Director for The Who's Tommy which he adapted for the stage with Pete Townsend. The Who's Tommy received a total of five Tony Awards. McAnuff directed Bee Blessings's A Walk In The Woods on Broadway in 1988 and in Moscow and Lithuania in 1989-90. He is Director-In-Residence of the La Jolla Playhouse where he was Artistic Director from its 1983 revival until 1994, during which time the theatre won more than 200 awards for excellence including the 1993 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. For the Playhouse, he directed Romeo and Juliet, A Mad World, My Masters, Big River, As You Like It, The Sea Gull, Shout Up A Morning, Gilette, The Matchmaker, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Twelfth Night, Three Sisters, Fortinbras, Elmer Gantry, Much Ado About Nothing, The Who's Tommy and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying with Matthew Broderick which moved to Broadway.
He has directed for the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard, Yale Rep and The Stratford Festival of Canada and is a former faculty member of the Julliard School.
McAnuff is married to actress Susan Berman and they are the proud parents of Julia Violet.
Des Mcanuff Facts