Hot List: West Side Story

5.14.2009

By Bill Keith

Don't tell the producers of this year's West Side Story revival that we're in a recession. The Broadway behemoth has been raking in weekly ticket sales of more than $1 million since it opened in March, breaking the theater's sales records.

Though much of the credit goes to the enduring classic's creators, the theater's seats wouldn't continue to fill up if Matt Cavenaugh, as iconic protagonist Tony, wasn't so successful fulfilling the demanding expectations of sentimental theatergoers, not to mention those of the notoriously persnickety Arthur Laurents, who is directing this production.

'My second and final audition for the part was like a mini-performance -- full of suits. Arthur, Stephen Sondheim, the musical director, the casting director, the choreographer, representatives from the Jerome Robbins estate, the Leonard Bernstein estate, lawyers, producers, publicists,' he says. 'Still, I think Arthur was definitely the hardest to please.'

But Cavenaugh concedes that theatergoers might be tougher. 'People think they know the show so well and can be so rigid about what they think it should be, but the man who wrote it [Laurents] is the only one free to say, 'This part doesn't work anymore. Maybe it did 50 years ago, but it doesn't now.''

Cavenaugh most recently appeared alongside Christine Ebersole in the 2006'2007 production of Grey Gardens and with Harvey Fierstein in 2008's A Catered Affair. Still others may remember the Arkansas native's Broadway debut in Urban Cowboy, thanks to the hot publicity posters that featured Cavenaugh, shirtless and oiled-up, atop a mechanical bull.

Fans of Cavenaugh might have something to covet beside his abs. 'I inherited my dressing room at the Palace Theatre from Liza, and I still have the red carpet she left behind,' he laughs. 'If Liza leaves you a present, you accept it graciously.'

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