Friday, July 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Tony Azito

[post 170]

Tony Azito (July 18, 1948 – May 26, 1995) was a New York stage actor who most of you have never heard of because he didn't have enough in the way of major movie roles before his untimely death from AIDS at the age of 46. I only saw Azito live twice, once in Pirates of Penzance and once in Richard Foreman's Threepenny Opera. He was that rare combination of highly talented dancer, physical comedian, and character actor, a modern-day Ray Bolger.

The Wikipedia entry offers the following early bio info:
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... 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.

Here's a clip of him being brilliant in a small role in a very forgettable (never made it to DVD) movie, Chattanooga Choo-Choo (1984). Not sure how I even knew about this one! Sorry for the quality; it's captured from a 25-year-old VHS tape.

video

If I'm counting correctly, that back roll is at least eight shots, so it's fair to assume the wine glasses were glued on for some of those. Still, that back roll to a free headstand is a cool pratfall. I remember trying it and sort of getting it, and I was doing it the hard way because I didn't realize that Azito was "cheating" by taking some weight on his free hand as he went up. Either way, though, you'd better have a flexible neck!

_______________________________
''I'm just loose. I’m so loose that a physical therapist I know has threatened to send all his students to watch me.'' — Tony Azito
_______________________________

Azito got far more attention as the sergeant in Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance, which went from the Delacorte Theatre in New York's Central Park to Broadway and then to a movie. He received a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award for this role.

Here's a clip of him from a live stage performance at the Delacorte doing the Tarantara number and the Policeman's Song opposite none other than Linda Ronstadt. Again the quality could be better, especially the audio. The choreography, though, is a delightful fusion of Keystone Cops with the splayed limbs and marionette-style movement that were Azito's trademark. The choreographer, Graciela Daniele, won both a 1981 Tony Award and a 1981 Drama Desk Award for her work on this show.


video


ASIDE:  In case you're wondering what he's singing, here are the lyrics:

WHEN A FELON'S NOT ENGAGED IN HIS EMPLOYMENT (his employment)
OR MATURING HIS FELONIOUS LITTLE PLANS (little plans)
HIS CAPACITY FOR INNOCENT ENJOYMENT (-cent enjoyment)
IS JUST AS GREAT AS ANY HONEST MAN'S (honest mans)
OUR FEELINGS WE WITH DIFFICULTY SMOTHER (-culty smother)
WHEN CONSTABULARY DUTY'S TO BE DONE (to be done)
AH, TAKE ONE CONSIDERATION WITH ANOTHER (with another)
A POLICEMAN'S LOT IS NOT A HAPPY ONE
AHHH
WHEN CONSTABULARY DUTY'S TO BE DONE, TO BE DONE,
A POLICEMAN'S LOT IS NOT A HAPPY ONE.
WHEN THE ENTERPRISING BURGLARS NOT A'BURGLING (not a'burgling)
WHEN THE CUT THROAT ISN'T OCCUPIED IN CRIME (-pied in crime)
HE LOVES TO HEAR THE LITTLE BROOK A'GURGLING (brook a'gurgling)
AND LISTEN TO THE MERRY VILLAGE CHIME (village chime)
WHEN THE COSTER'S FINISHED JUMPING ON HIS MOTHER (on his mother)
HE LOVES TO LIE A'BASKING IN THE SUN (in the sun)
AH, TAKE ONE CONSIDERATION WITH ANOTHER (with another)
A POLICEMAN'S LOT IS NOT A HAPPY ONE
AHHH
WHEN CONSTABULARY DUTY'S TO BE DONE, TO BE DONE,
A POLICEMAN'S LOT IS NOT A HAPPY ONE (happy one).

Azito had small roles in a lot of other movies, as well as playing the villain Monolo on the Miami Vice television show, so perhaps there are some other good clips out there. I did actually watch him in Private Resort, a 1985 teen movie (with an unrecognizable Johnny Depp) and all I can say, dear reader, is that you don't pay me enough. Dreadful movie, no Azito clips worthy of your attention. But if I find anything else, you'll see it here first. Meanwhile....

Links:
A 1981 NY Times article describing Azito as "Buster Keaton injected with silly putty."
The NY Times obituary.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just found this lovely tribute. I'm flabbergasted as I didn't know Tony had passed. And 20 years ago! In the late 70s & early 80s I spent much time working in and around the NY theater scene and I'd met Tony a number of times. At shows, openings, at Ted Hooks. He was always full of energy and enthusiasm. I saw him first in Happy End and three times in Pirates. By the late 80's work brought me to LA and I drifted away from NY for a decade with most friendships fading as well.
Though it is sad that Tony's life was cut short like many others who suffered from the pandemic, I appreciate that your blog writes of the accomplishments he achieved in the short time he was allotted in this world. Bravo.