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Don McKay, an actor, singer and dancer who portrayed Tony in three early productions of West Side Story, died Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 93.
In 1957, McKay played Tony in the backers’ auditions for West Side Story on Broadway when Cheryl Crawford was the producer, then auditioned for the role after Harold Prince and Robert Griffith had taken over.
When the musical opened Sept. 26, 1957, Larry Kert had the part, but director-choreographer Jerome Robbins hired McKay to star opposite Marlys Watters as Maria and George Chakiris as Riff for the London production at Her Majesty’s Theatre. It opened in December 1958, and McKay missed just three performances in three years.
“Some kids saw the show 60 times,” McKay said in a 1969 interview. “I met the Queen Mother, but I was too young to be very much impressed.”
The square-jawed, handsome performer later starred in the original Tokyo production of West Side Story and in a 1964 revival at the City Center in New York.
McKay also played Gabey in a 1963 London production of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town; performed with Judy Garland in A Star Is Born (1954) during her “Gotta Have Me Go With You” number; and sang in 1956 on Washington Square, an NBC variety series starring Ray Bolger.
Born Jan. 28, 1925, in Buttermilk Hill, W.Va., McKay received a scholarship for private voice lessons and briefly attended Roosevelt College in Illinois.
He started his career as a nightclub singer and a member of composer-lyricist Hugh Martin’s vocal group, The Martins. In 1951, he appeared on Broadway in the chorus of Make a Wish, with lyrics and music by Martin, and was a singer in Johnny Mercer’s Top Banana.
He did a Show Boat studio recording with Shirley Bassey in 1959 and then took acting lessons from Sanford Meisner.
More recently, McKay was interviewed by filmmakers working on a documentary about the original Broadway production of West Side Story. He showed them his scrapbooks and the original Arthur Laurents script in which Tony does not die.
Jane Klain of the Paley Center for Media in New York reported McKay’s death. Survivors include his longtime partner, Jessie Dunston.
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