Tony Hart was an American actor, singer, and comedian with the popular comedy team of Harrigan & Hart. Harrigan & Hart are often credited with helping establish and popularize musical-comedy theater in the United States.
Biographical fast facts
Original name at birth: Anthony J. Cannon
Anthony Cannon made his professional singing debut in Boston. But it was in Chicago where he would meet his future comedy partner, Ned Harrigan, and plant the seeds of a grand stage career that would take him to the heights of Broadway. After changing his name to Tony Hart, Harrigan & Hart was born.
Harrigan & Hart were best known for The Mulligan Guards, which premiered in 1873. After becoming their signature piece, the Guards would be featured in many of their most popular slapstick skits and plays. Because of his short height and slight build, it usually fell to Hart to portray the female roles in their comedy sketches and plays. His female impersonations were so good, some audience members refused to believe he wasn't a woman. Their comic antics dominated the New York stage during the 1870s and early 1880s.
The acclaimed comedy team gave their final Broadway performance on May 9th, 1885. Fans were heartbroken when they learned the most popular comedy duo on Broadway had gone their separate ways. Hart went on to appear in other productions, but never came close to attaining the level of success he did with his former comedy partner.
Following the breakup, Tony's medical problems quickly mounted, and his financial situation became dire. March 22, 1888, his friends, supporters and fans put on a benefit that raised a good sum of money for his medical treatment and living expenses. He suffered from a variety of maladies stemming from paresis, and advanced syphilis. Ultimately, dementia robbed Tony of his memories, and his final years were spent in and out of a state mental institution. Tony Hart was just 36 when he died.
Nearly a century after Harrigan & Hart's heyday, a $2 million Broadway musical, Harrigan 'n Hart opened. Directed by Joe Layton, the musical told the story of Ned Harrigan and comedy partner Tony Hart's struggle to rise to the top of late 19th century Broadway theater. Harry Groener portrayed Ned Harrigan, and Mark Hamill (of Star Wars fame) played Tony Hart. The show opened at the renowned Longacre Theater, January 31st, 1985, and closed February 3rd, 1985, after just a handful of performances, and a couple dozen previews. The show was a flop, with the New York Times calling it "dull" and "aimless." Nonetheless, both Harry Groener and Mark Hamill received Drama Desk Award nominations in the Outstanding Actor in a Musical category, for their performances.
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