Robert Westenberg

Robert Westenberg

American musical theatre actor and acting teacher Robert Westenberg (b. Miami Beach, FL, 26 October 1953) had a substantial career on Broadway, the highlights of which were his roles in the casts of two Stephen Sondheim musicals, the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince in Into the Woods (1987) (for which he received a Drama Desk Award and a Tony® nomination), and the title role (replacing Mandy Patinkin) in Sunday in the Park with George (1984). Both of the Sondheim shows were televised (1991 and 1986 respectively). He also appeared off-Broadway, on regional stages and national tours, on series television, and in films. He now teaches in the Theater Department at Drury University.

Raised in Fresno, California, among seven siblings, Westenberg graduated from Bullard High School in 1971, where he played football, and attended California State University in his home town. He went to San Francisco to study at the American Conservatory Theatre, but by 1981 he was in New York City, honing his acting skills on Shakespeare off-Broadway in Henry IV, Part I. In the 1983 revival of Zorba with Anthony Quinn, he made his Broadway debut as Nikos and won the 1984 Theatre World Award.

Thereafter, Westenberg climbed steadily upward, from understudying the role of George in Sunday in the Park (while acting two other small parts), to replacing Patinkin five months later; when that show closed he filled in as Javert in Les Misérables. While creating the original Award-winning Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince in Into the Woods (1987), he met Kim Crosby who was playing Cinderella, and who would become his wife in 1991. In April 1991 he was cast in the starring role of Doctor Neville Craven, the brother of Uncle Archibald, played by Mandy Patinkin, in The Secret Garden. As the two brothers, Westenberg and Patinkin together sang Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman’s extraordinarily moving duet, “Lily’s Eyes.” The Secret Garden ran for 709 performances.

In 1993, in one of the few non-musical plays he has appeared in, Westenberg played Ninian Edwards to Sam Waterston’s Lincoln in the revival of Abe Lincoln in Illinois at Lincoln Center. Two more strong revivals would round out his Broadway career: Company in 1995 and 1776 in 1997, in which he played Dr. Lyman Hall. Then, putting the Great White Way behind him, he decided to go to Denver and earn an M.F.A. at the National Theatre Conservatory.

While in Colorado in 1998, with the Denver Center Theatre Company, Westenberg took part in performances of Travels with My Aunt, Macbeth (as Macduff), and Sylvia. After a national tour as Harold Nichols in The Full Monty and several other regional appearances, he and his wife settled in Springfield, Missouri, her home town. He joined the faculty of the Theatre Department at Drury University (originally Springfield College) in 2005.

He did, not, however, give up performing in musicals: the city of St. Louis boasts the oldest and largest outdoor amphitheatre in the country, known as the Muny (once the Municipal Opera of St. Louis), seating 11,000 for each performance of seven favorite musicals each summer. Both Robert Westenberg and Kim Crosby have appeared on its stage multiple times, frequently opposite each other. They were Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady in 2001 and 2008; he was John Adams in 1776 in 1999, Captain Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Music in 2000 and 2005, Mr. Brownlow in Oliver!, 2006, and Captain Hook in Peter Pan, 2007. He also appeared in Art at the Old Globe Theatre, San Deigo, in 2001.

Westenberg has had some success as a stage director as well (The Broadway Cabaret, The Drowsy Chaperone, Les Misérables). His film credits include Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990), The Stars Fell on Henrietta (1995), and The Ice Storm (1997), and he has made guest appearances on Third Watch and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He played Prince Raymond Hohenstein of Mendorra on the soap opera One Life to Live in 1989 and 1990.

Kim Crosby and Robert Westenberg have three children, Emily, Katie, and Joel.

– Lucy E. Cross