July 18, 1948|
New York City, New York,
|Died||May 26, 1995
Manhattan, New York,
Tony Azito (July 18, 1948 – May 26, 1995) was an American eccentric dancer and character actor. During his career, he was best known for comic and grotesque parts, which were accentuated by his lanky, hyperextended body.
Azito was part of Juilliard's famous "Group I," the first students admitted to the drama program administered by John Houseman. His fellow students included Patti LuPone and Kevin Kline. Soon after arriving, Azito fell under the influence of choreographer Anna Sokolow and began studying modern dance — although, at six-foot-three (190 cm), Azito was an unusual candidate for dance training. (There was another dancer in the family: Azito's younger brother, Arturo Azito, performed with Eliot Feld and the Boston Ballet.) This newfound interest in dance aggravated Houseman, who was apparently anxious about the number of gay men in Group I and had already clashed with Azito over a cross-dressing incident. Partly as a result of his conflict with Houseman, Azito left Juilliard without taking a degree and, as "Antonio Azito," spent two years performing in Sokolow's company.
Returning to drama in the mid-1970s, Azito began working in avant-garde off- and off-off-Broadway theater, including Cotton Club Gala, Bebop, The Life and Times of Toulouse-Lautrec, and C.O.R.F.A.X. He quickly became associated with the director Wilford Leach, who would be one of Azito's most frequent employers until Leach's own death. He made his Broadway debut in Richard Foreman's controversial revival of The Threepenny Opera, in a dancing role ("Samuel") invented just for him. Critics were intrigued by what soon became known as Azito's signature: a dancing style that made him look like a somewhat off-kilter marionette, accompanied by stylized facial expressions. An interviewer once described him as "a bit like Buster Keaton injected with Silly Putty." This production also inaugurated Azito's association with Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival, which continued with another Brecht-Weill musical, Happy End (1977).
Azito's best-known role, however, came in yet a third production for NYSF: as the Sergeant of Police in the 1980 Broadway revival of The Pirates of Penzance, starring Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline. His performance earned him a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award, and he repeated the role in the 1983 film version. Azito went on to perform at Radio City Music Hall, the Mark Taper Forum, and in the abortive American National Theater company at Kennedy Center. After playing Feste in the NYSF production of Twelfth Night (1986), directed by Wilford Leach. His last Broadway role was in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, also directed by Leach. While in the road company of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, both of Azito's legs were badly broken after being struck by a cab. It would take a couple of years for Tony to get back on his feet. He went on to perform in a summer stock revival of "She Loves Me" in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and in productions of Tom Stoppard's "Travesties" and the musical "Amphigorey."
Film and television career
Recreating his Broadway smash, Azito's most memorable film role was the Sergeant in The Pirates of Penzance playing opposite Angela Lansbury. Tony also had parts in "Union City," (1980) with Debbie Harry, Woody Allen's Stardust Memories (1980), Private Resort (1985) with Rob Morrow and Johnny Depp, Moonstruck opposite Cher (1987), "Bloodhounds of Broadway" with Madonna, and was the lead in the cult film "Apple Pie". Azito's final film role was the Librarian in Necronomicon. Azito also had a cameo as one of the party dancers in The Addams Family (1991). On television, he played the villain Monolo on Miami Vice, The Equalizer, and Beacon Hill.
- Houseman's hostility to Azito's dancing: Kevin Grubb, "The Eccentricities of Tony Azito," Dance Magazine 58 (Sept. 1984): 78; the cross-dressing and Houseman's desire to add more "strong, heterosexual boys" to the program: Andrea Olmstead, Juilliard: A History (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 228, ISBN 0-252-02487-7.
- Robert Berkvist, "His Constabulary Duty is to Keep 'Pirates' Bubbling," New York Times 27-9-1981: D4.
- Cause of death: William Grimes, "Tony Azito, 46, Stage Actor," New York Times 27-5-1995: 27.