The Pirates of Penzance

Universal Press Department
January 5, 1983


The New York Times wrote recently that "Tony Azito is one of those unmistakable theatrical presences. A tall, gaunt, rubber­jointed bundle of gyrating limbs that somehow suggest co-ordinated chaos, he is a Punch-and-Judy figure come to life, a prancing, dancing clown who can lend acrobatic dazzle to a somersault and balletic grace to a pratfall."

Making his motion picture debut as the timorous Sergeant of Police in the cinematic version of "The Pirates Of Penzance," he is the capering essence of physical comedy, leading his squad of Keystone Kops through their bumbling paces with manic glee while he laments that "a policeman's lot is not a happy one."

Azito has been with the show since the tremendously successful revival started in New York's Central Park in July of 1980. He says he auditioned for the production with no idea of the part he might get to play. He had prepared himself by listening to every Gilbert and Sullivan recording he could lay his hands on.

"Pirates" is not Azito's first spell in the limelight. In 1976, in the Shakespeare Festival production of The Threepenny Opera, he played the evil Mr. Peachum's assistant, doing a sinister dance to "Mack The Knife." The following year, he was in another Brecht-Weill musical, Happy End, at the Brooklyn Academy, a production that catapulted Meryl Streep to prominence.

"When I started out, I thought I was going to be a Shakespearean actor," he told the New York Times recently. "Then I decided I was too weird-looking, too tall and thin - I'm 6 foot 3. But that's helped me as a dancer. I've known a lot of dancers who were ten times better than me, but who were too short. Turns out the market wants 'em tall and thin, so I got jobs and they didn't."

Azito, who was born in New York, studied with the choreographer and modern dancer, Anna Sokolow, for five years: three years at Juilliard and two more with her company. He also studied mime with Moni Yakim.

It was at Juilliard that he received his first formal theatrical training, working with John Houseman in the group of students that later became the nucleus of The Acting Company. Kevin Kline, who plays the Pirate King in the movie, was an early Juilliard graduate, as was Patti Lu Pone, Broadway's first Evita.

His first stop in the market place was Ellen Stewart's La Mama Experimental Theatre Company, where he spent four years and worked in more than a dozen shows.

With his success in "Pirates," Azito says, "I owe a lot to Joseph Papp and the Shakespeare Festival. They've been good to me."

And he is quick to praise the show's choreographer, Graciela Daniele, for the way she took advantage of his special qualities. "She'd say, 'In this spot, I want lots of arms and legs all over the place, really go crazy, and then you end up like this -­ one, two.'

"It's strange how some people say there is a lot of improvised tumbling and bumbling around in the show, but there isn't any. There can't be improvising with everybody moving around like that, or there'd be chaos. Graciela's a perfectionist. She made sure that we all ended right on the beat, every time. It's all choreographed. It's even more precise for the movie cameras. We must not only finish on the right beat, but also the right mark."

When Tony Azito completes his film role, sometime in February, 1982, he, along with George Rose, who plays the model Major­General, will return to the Broadway show for another year or so.

Edward R. Pressman presents A Joseph Papp Production, "The Pirates Of Penzance," starring Kevin Kline, Angela Lansbury, Linda Ronstadt, George Rose and Rex Smith. It is directed and has a screenplay by Wilford Leach, and Joseph Papp is the producer. A Universal Release, the executive producer is Edward R. Pressman, and the co-producer is Timothy Burrill.

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