The role of Tony in WEST SIDE STORY may be the most difficult role to cast in musical theatre. It requires a young performer who can sing a tenor role, dance Jerome Robbins' iconic choreography, and act convincingly enough to make the audience believe that love-at-first-sight is a true possibility in the real world. Not every production of the show is successful in getting someone who scores in all these departments.
Of course, the original 1957 production had Larry Kert-a singing actor who went on to have a fine career in the theatre before his premature death in 1991. The movie version featured the young Richard Beymer as the Polish-American Tony. Beymer had his singing voice noticeably dubbed and resorted to a "dance double" in the more complicated aspects of the choreography. As far as his acting in the role, let's be kind and say he was much better in projects he was involved in during the latter part of his career. The cherished production of WEST SIDE STORY that was produced by the Music Theatre of Lincoln Center in 1968 had the young Kurt Peterson in the role. As an actor, Peterson was very effective and he was fine executing the dance moves. A excellent singer, Peterson today admits that he had trouble with the score. He's a legitimate baritone and some of the final notes of "Maria" presented problems for him. "In rehearsal Bernstein wrote a new obliggato which was tried several times and it really didn't work," Peterson recalled in an earlier BroadwayWorld interview. "Bernstein came up with the idea of having three chorus guys in the background enhancing what I was singing. That worked "
Happily, the current embodiment of WEST SIDE STORY currently on view at Broadway's Palace Theatre may feature the finest of the lot as Tony. Matthew Hydzik is a sensitive actor and dances with manly grace. His tenor voice may be one of the sweetest sounds heard on Broadway in many seasons and it's a pleasure to hear his renditions of "Maria", "Tonight", "Something's Coming" and "One Hand, One Heart", which are just some of the gems in the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim score. What's more, Matthew Hydzik not only looks Polish, he is Polish. After serving as standby for the role, he has moved up to the plum role.
"I was trying to audition for this show and I couldn't get one to save my life," Hydzik explains in his dressing room before a Thursday evening performance. "Kind of late in the audition process my voice teacher called Stuart Howard Casting and said, ‘You've gotta see this kid. He's Polish, he's young and he can sing it.' As a result, I finally got an audition thanks to my wonderful friend and voice teacher Matt Farnsworth."
Hydzik discusses the fact that his grandfather came over during the invasion of Poland when at the age of 16. "Actually, he was born in the USA so he could be a US citizen and then his parents took him back home to Sonak," he says. "When the war got down and dirty and the Germans came rolling in everything pretty much got annihilated in his town but my grandfather got off in time and came here."
Raised in Pittsburgh, Matthew Hydzik began taking the dance and etiquette classes that the affluent kids in his town took. The same man who taught those classes was a teacher at the private school called the Sewickley Academy. This same man, Mario Melodia, taught dance in their theatre program. "He offered a summer camp that was really a three-week computer-intensive course and I took it every summer from the age eleven until the end of high school," Hydzik recalls. "Also, my mother started the first theatre club at the Edgewood Elementary School where she taught during my fifth grade year. So that was the first play I was ever in. It was called ‘Of Mice and Mozart'. It was about a mouse that lived below Mozart's home. It was just about then that my mother realized I was getting interested in all of this"
According to Hydzik, Pittsburgh is a great town for the arts. "It has a lot of theatres and a great music scene. My father works for Carnegie-Mellon. Through him I was able to meet a few acting teachers who really influenced me. I went to pre-college there and then to Penn State."