Tony Mordente, Original A-Rab in West Side Story, Dies at 88

During West Side Story, Mordente famously met and married his costar, Chita Rivera.


Bye Bye Birdie Broadway Stars Reunion After Party
Tony Mordente (center) with Lisa Mordente (left) and Chita Rivera (right)
(© Joseph Marzullo)

Dancer/choreographer Tony Mordente died at the age of 88 on Tuesday, June 12 after a brief illness.

Born December 3, 1935 in Brooklyn, Mordente began dancing at the age of 13, training at the American Ballet Theater School and the High School of Performing Arts. At the American Ballet Theater School, he was discovered by the choreographer Michael Kidd, who cast him in the 1956 musical Li’l Abner, in the role of Lonesome Polecat.

Mordente is best known for originating the role of A-Rab in the original Broadway and West End companies of West Side Story, as well as playing Action in the original film adaptation. During the run of West Side Story, Mordente began a relationship with costar Chita Rivera, who would become his future wife. They had a daughter, Lisa Mordente, before divorcing in 1966.

On Broadway, Mordente’s credits also include Bye Bye BirdieBen Franklin in Paris, and the short-lived Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Here’s Where I Belong.

A longtime television director, he helmed 29 episodes of Rhoda, 10 episodes of Matlock, 37 episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger, and 33 episodes of 7th Heaven.

He is survived by daughters Lisa Mordente and Adriana Mordente, lifelong friend Tony Bolletino, and two former wives. Rivera died in January 2024 at the age of 91.