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Larry Kert (December 5, 1930 - June 5, 1991) was an Americanmarker actor, singer, and dancer.

Early life

He was born Frederick Lawrence Kert in Los Angeles, Californiamarker. His first professional credit was as a member of a theatrical troupe called the Upstarts in the 1950 Broadwaymarker revue Tickets, Please!. After a seven-month run, he worked sporadically in Off-Broadway and ballet productions as a dancer until 1957, when he made his first big break: West Side Story.

West Side Story

In 1955, while dancing a chorus member in the Sammy Davis Jr show Mr. Wonderful, Kert was recommended by his fellow dancer and friend Chita Rivera, who got the role of Anita, 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, a modernized adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in upper Manhattanmarker. Based on recollections by Kert years later while singing at the White Housemarker, he was the 18th out of 150 hopefuls to audition, but he was the first one to be cut. A few months later, while Kert 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 got the role.

According to Laurents in his memoir Original Story By, 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. The reason was that, at 30 years old, he looked unbelievable to play a teenager, and the role went to former child actor Richard Beymer, although his vocals were dubbed by Jim Bryant. Kert was upset at being passed over for the role, because he had hoped that it could have jump-started a potential film career.

Success and struggles

For several years, Kert experienced a streak of bad luck mixed with major moments that gained him much attention and, at one point, a Tony nomination. 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. Often, he spent a lot of time working in Off-Broadway, theatre workshops, and taught dance. However, as an understudy, he did get a chance to play the male lead Cliff in the first run of Cabaret for most of the run, when the chosen actor fell ill and had to take time off. Despite this critical acclaim, he never regained the momentum he had as Tony in West Side Story.

His next big break came as a replacement. Dean Jones, better known for his roles in Disney films than he was as a musical performer, had been cast as the lead in Stephen Sondheim's Company (1970), but was stressed due to ongoing divorce proceedings. Soon after opening night, he was replaced by Kert -- the critics returned a second time and raved about his dynamic performance. So acclaimed was he that the Tony Awards nominating committee that year allowed him to compete as the award for Best Actor in a Musical, an honor usually allowed only for the performer who originates the particular role.

As it had already been recorded, the original cast album did not include Kert. However, when the cast travelled to London to reprise their roles, Columbia Records took him into the studio to record new tracks to lay down over Jones' removed ones. This "new" recording was released as the Original London Cast recording. In 1998, when Sony Music who had acquired the Columbia catalogues, released a newly-digitalized CD version of the original Broadway cast recording, Kert's rendition of "Being Alive", the show's final number, was included as a bonus track.

Kert never achieved the growing and ongoing success his stint in Company suggested he was destined to enjoy. In 1975, he appeared in A Musical Jubilee, a revue that lasted barely three months. Rags (1986) closed two days after it opened, and 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 both scores had been recorded completely, and the recordings were the first of many made possible because of the now famous discovery in a Secaucus, New Jerseymarker warehouse of many original show manuscripts by the great songwriters of the American musical theatre.

Kert made brief appearances in the feature films Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and New York, New York (1977). His television credits include guest appearances on 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.

Kert's last stage appearance was in a touring company of La Cage aux Folles but he missed performances because of illness. Kert died in New York Citymarker from AIDS-related complications in 1991. His older sister, who survives him, is singer Anita Ellis, noted for dubbing Rita Hayworth and other non-singing stars in their films.

Stage credits

  • Legs Diamond (1989)
  • Rags (1986)
  • Side by Side by Sondheim (1978)
  • A Musical Jubilee (1976)
  • Sondheim: A Musical Tribute (1973)
  • Company (1972)
  • La Strada (1969)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's (1966)
  • Cabaret (1969)
  • A Family Affair (1962)
  • West Side Story (1959)
  • Mr. Wonderful (1957)
  • John Murray Anderson's Almanac (1954)
  • Tickets, Please! (1950)

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