'Tootsie' Tony-winner Santino Fontana coming to BrickBox Theater for Broadway in Worcester

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Tony Award-winner Santino Fontana has taken many roles as an actor and singer, so there's not much danger of him being type-cast.

And if you want to know what kind of show he'll be putting on when he comes to the BrickBox Theater at the Jean McDonough Arts Center for a concert performance at 8 p.m. on March 1 as part of the Broadway in Worcester series, perhaps the best approach is to just wait and see.

That's what Fontana plans to do. There is no set formula, or cast-in-stone set list.

Santino Fontana won a Tony Award for his role in "Tootsie."
Santino Fontana won a Tony Award for his role in "Tootsie."

"The show is an impromptu evening built with and for the crowd that comes out," Fontana, 41, said.  "I firmly believe that acknowledging what’s actually happening in a performance will always be more interesting than what I could plan, so with that in mind … I’m bringing a bunch of songs from the American Songbook - theater music, movie music, jazz standards … and then (the) audience will help me pick which ones are sung … and yes, every song has a story connecting it to me in  someway."

Fontana will be accompanied by Andrew Bourgoin on piano. "We met when I performed at an event for the Super Bowl in Minneapolis … yes you heard that correctly.  Ahhhh, show biz."

Bringing Broadway to Worcester

Broadway in Worcester was founded by Eric Butler and since 2022 has brought in Tony Award winners Laura Benanti, Kelli O'Hara, Jessie Mueller, and theater legend Chita Rivera who passed away at the age of 91 on Jan. 30.

"Santino Fontana is one of Broadway's most sought after leading men and versatile actors. From screwball comedy to straight drama, he does it all, and he does it exceptionally well. Worcester audiences can expect a chill and entertaining night with Santino full of fun stories and unforgettable songs," Butler said.

Fontana's wide-ranging roles on Broadway have included Algernon Moncrieff in the revival of  "The Importance of Being Earnest," the angry older brother in "Billy Elliot," Prince Topher (Prince Charming) in Rodgers + Hammerstein's "Cinderella,"  Stanley in "Brighton Beach Memoirs," and Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels in the stage musical adaptation of the film "Tootsie." He also won great acclaim in the Off-Broadway production of Stephen Karam’s comedy-drama  "Sons of the Prophet." He received the 2019 Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and Tony awards for "Tootsie."

In film he was the voice of villainous Prince Hans in the Academy Award winning Disney film "Frozen." Television audiences have seen him "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” as well as "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Shades of Blue,” “Mozart In The Jungle,” “Fosse/Verdon,” “Royal Pains,” “Nurse Jackie” and more.

As an interpreter of the American Songbook, he won the renowned Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival when he was 18 and has sung with orchestras, big bands, and smaller ensembles including the New York Philharmonic. And he travels with his one-man show.

Tony Award-winner Santino Fontana is set to appear at the BrickBox Theater at the Jean McDonough Arts Center.
Tony Award-winner Santino Fontana is set to appear at the BrickBox Theater at the Jean McDonough Arts Center.

"I never have been to Worcester before, but I love traveling.  Sometimes I think I should’ve been a vaudevillian because I really do love the touring lifestyle," Fontana said.

A fellow cast member in the Broadway production of "Tootsie" was Worcester's Michael McGrath, who died last year at 65. The well-liked McGrath traveled from the Worcester stage at the former Foothills Theatre to Broadway, and was also a Tony winner in 2012 for best actor in a featured musical role, playing wise guy Cookie McGee in “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”  In "Tootsie" he played exasperated agent Stan Fields.

"I remember Mike was from there (Worcester) … I loved him," Fontana said.  "I miss him.  He and I were texting a few weeks before he passed.  I think the hardest thing about losing McGrath is that he had perfect timing … and with his death, I think even he’d agree, the timing was wrong.  All wrong. I loved him."

'I just wanna keep mixing it up'

Fontana was born in California and graduated from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program.

"I always felt comfortable in front of people and loved being a part of a group sharing an experience.  I didn’t think it (acting) was really possible though until a director sat me down and told me they thought I could try this if I wanted to," Fontana said.

Asked about his variety of roles and if he has a favorite, he said "I loved being in 'Sons of the Prophet' which was a Stephen Karam play off Broadway with Joanna Gleason.  'Tootsie' was a blast.  I had a great time playing with everyone on 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,' or playing a crooked cop on 'Shades of Blue.'  Variety is the spice of life, and it’s why I became an actor.  I’ve been trying to avoid an identity all my life."

As for any preference for stage, film or TV, it is "Stage definitely," he said. "I love all three, but film is an editor's medium, TV is a writer's/producer's medium,  and stage is all us.  Actors on stage are given the responsibility to tell an entire story from start to finish … we’re editing and writing moments in real time all in order to land the plane eight times a week."

Santino's going to keep traveling his way. "I just wanna keep mixing it up.  Spin the wheel in all the different mediums and refuse to repeat myself."

Broadway in Worcester also fosters collaboration between Broadway talents and the area’s local high school and college students and their arts educators through educational programming. Fontana will participate in a free master class for students and educators followed by a Q&A. The program will begin at 10:30 a.m. March 1 at the BrickBox Theater.

"I love teaching. I spent a summer at Interlochen (arts summer camp in Interlochen, Michigan) and I still remember the master class we had with Matthew Broderick," Fontana said.

"Any chance to get to interface with aspiring actors is an opportunity to connect with someone who likely loves this as much as I do.  I can’t wait to meet students in Massachusetts and get some tips on where I need to eat while I’m there."

Santino Fontana In Concert — Broadway in Worcester

When: 8 p.m. March 1

Where: BrickBox Theater, Jean McDonough Arts Center, 20 Franklin St., Worcester

How much: $50 and $75 depending on seat location; limited number of VIP tickets, $100. broadwayinworcester.com

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Broadway in Worcester to welcome Tony-winner Santino Fontana to JMAC