Born as Frederick Lawrence Kert in Los Angeles, California, Kert graduated from Hollywood High School. His first professional credit was as a member of a theatrical troupe called the "Bill Norvas and the Upstarts" in the 1950 Broadway revue Tickets, Please!. After a seven-month run, he worked sporadically in Off-Broadway and ballet productions as a dancer until 1957, when he was cast in West Side Story.
In 1955, while dancing in the chorus in the Sammy Davis, Jr. show Mr. Wonderful, Kert was recommended by his fellow dancer and friend Chita Rivera, who eventually won the role of Anita in West Side Story, to audition as a dancer for Gangway during the earliest Broadway pre-production of the Arthur Laurents-Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim musical later titled West Side Story, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set on the west side of mid-town Manhattan in the 1950s. Years later while singing at the White House, Kert remembered he was the 18th out of 150 hopefuls to audition, but he was the first one to be cut. A few months later, while he was working for Esquire in an advertising show, Stephen Sondheim approached him after seeing him perform and set up an audition for the part of Tony. Kert was reluctant to accept the offer, but a few weeks later, he was informed that he had the role.
According to Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book for West Side Story, Kert was "a California extrovert, laughing, bubbling, deadly funny, and openly gay." Director-choreographer Jerome Robbins frequently clashed with Kert, publicly chastising him for being a "faggot," despite the fact that Robbins himself, fellow dancer Tommy Abbott and most of the creative team was gay. Kert did not repeat his role in the 1961 film version of the show because at 30 years old he looked unbelievable as a teenager. The role went to former child actor Richard Beymer, whose vocals were dubbed by Jimmy Bryant. Kert was upset at being passed over for the role, because he had hoped that it would jump-start his film career.
Kert's later career had only occasional high points. A Family Affair limped along for three months in early 1962. He was a member of the cast of the infamous ill-fated musical version of Truman Capote's novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's, which closed during previews in December 1966. His next project, La Strada (1969), closed on opening night. He often worked in Off-Broadway, theatre workshops, and taught dance. However, replacing the original actor who fell ill, he played the male lead Cliff in the first run of Cabaret for most of its run. Despite critical acclaim, he never again achieved the recognition he had as Tony in West Side Story.
His next big break came as a replacement for Dean Jones as the lead in Stephen Sondheim's Company (1970). Soon after opening night, director Harold Prince released Jones from his contract and substituted Kert. Critics returned a second time and raved about his dynamic performance. The Tony Award's nominating committee allowed him to compete for the category of Best Actor in a Musical, though the rules normally restricted nominations to the performer who originated a role.
The original cast album of Company had already been recorded before Kert joined the first cast. When the cast traveled to London to reprise their roles, Columbia Records recorded new tracks with Kert to substitute for those Jones had recorded. This recording with Kert was released as the Original London Cast recording. In 1998, when Sony Music, which had acquired the Columbia catalog, released a new digital version of the original Broadway cast recording, Kert's rendition of "Being Alive", the show's final number, was included as a bonus track.
In 1975, he appeared in A Musical Jubilee, a revue that lasted barely three months. Rags (1986) closed two days after it opened. In his final show, Legs Diamond (1988), he was a standby for star Peter Allen.
One of Kert's last recordings was the 1987 2-CD studio cast album of the complete scores of two George and Ira Gershwin musicals: Of Thee I Sing and its sequel Let 'Em Eat Cake. This was the first time these scores had been recorded in their entirety.
Kert made brief appearances in the feature films Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and New York, New York (1977). His television credits included guest appearances on The Sorceror's Apprentice (Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Kraft Suspense Theatre, The Bell Telephone Hour, Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, and Love, American Style. He appeared several times on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
His older sister is singer Anita Ellis, noted for dubbing Rita Hayworth and other non-singing stars in their films.
Thousands of gay Americans fell in love with West Side Story when they were children in the fifties. And for legions of kids of all persuasions, the show provided them with their first concrete notion of romantic love. To many gay adults coming of age in the sixties, the romance, violence, danger, and mystery so audible on the original cast album all felt like integral parts of the gay life they had embraced. The lyrics of "Somewhere" in particular seemed to speak directly to the gay experience before the age of liberation. In 1996, it was one of the songs chosen for the first mass gay wedding of two hundred couples in San Francisco, presided over by the city's mayor, Willie Brown. But none of the collaborators (or their 1950S contemporaries) ever suspected there was anything gay about their very heterosexual love story. (Coincidentally, Larry Kert, who starred as Tony, was also gay.) "It was never an issue that we talked about," said Murray Gitlin, who fell in love with the show when it opened. "I never thought about it as gay." --Charles Kaiser. The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America (Kindle Locations 1384-1389). Kindle Edition.Further Readings:
Larry Kert by Kristen Nehemiah Horst
Paperback: 204 pages
Publisher: Dign Press (May 19, 2012)
Amazon: Larry Kert
Please note that the content of this book primarily consists of articles available from Wikipedia or other free sources online. Larry Kert (December 5, 1930 - June 5, 1991) was an American actor, singer, and dancer. He is best known for creating the role of Tony in the original Broadway version of West Side Story. Born as Frederick Lawrence Kert in Los Angeles, California, Kert graduated from Hollywood High School. His first professional credit was as a member of a theatrical troupe called the "Bill Norvas and the Upstarts" in the 1950 Broadway revue Tickets, Please!. After a seven-month run, he worked sporadically in Off-Broadway and ballet productions as a dancer until 1957, when he was cast in West Side Story. In 1955, while dancing in the chorus in the Sammy Davis, Jr. show Mr. Wonderful, Kert was recommended by his fellow dancer and friend Chita Rivera, who eventually won the role of Anita in West Side Story,, to audition as a dancer for Gangway during the earliest Broadway pre-production of the Arthur Laurents-Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim musical later titled West Side Story, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in upper Manhattan in the 1950s.
Stephen Sondheim: A Life by Meryle Secrest
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Delta; 1st edition (June 8, 1999)
Amazon: Stephen Sondheim: A Life
In the first full-scale life of the most
important composer-lyricist at work in musical theatre today, Meryle Secrest, the biographer of Frank Lloyd Wright and Leonard Bernstein, draws on her extended conversations with Stephen Sondheim as well as on her interviews with his friends, family, collaborators, and lovers to bring us not only the artist--as a master of
modernist compositional style--but also the private man.
Beginning with his early childhood on New York's prosperous Upper West Side, Secrest describes how Sondheim was taught to play the piano by his father, a successful dress manufacturer and amateur musician. She writes about Sondheim's early ambition to become a concert pianist, about the effect on him of his parents' divorce when he was ten, about his years in military and private schools. She writes about his feelings of loneliness and abandonment, about the refuge he found in the home of Oscar and Dorothy Hammerstein, and his determination to become just like Oscar.
Secrest describes the years when Sondheim was struggling to gain a foothold in the theatre, his attempts at scriptwriting (in his early twenties in Rome on the
set of Beat the Devil with Bogart and Huston, and later in Hollywood as a co-writer with George Oppenheimer for the TV series Topper), living the Hollywood life.
Here is Sondheim's ascent to the peaks of the Broadway musical, from his chance meeting with play-
wright Arthur Laurents, which led to his first success--
as co-lyricist with Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story--to his collaboration with Laurents on Gypsy, to his first full Broadway score, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. And Secrest writes about his first big success as composer, lyricist, writer in the 1960s with Company, an innovative and sophisticated musical that examined marriage à la mode. It was the start of an almost-twenty-year collaboration with producer and director Hal Prince that resulted in such shows as Follies, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, and
A Little Night Music.
We see Sondheim at work with composers, producers, directors, co-writers, actors, the greats of his time and ours, among them Leonard Bernstein, Ethel Merman, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Robbins, Zero Mostel, Bernadette Peters, and Lee Remick (with whom it was said he was in love, and she with him), as Secrest vividly re-creates the energy, the passion, the despair, the excitement, the genius, that went into the making of show after Sondheim show.
A biography that is sure to become the standard work on Sondheim's life and art.
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