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Cinderella - Broadway

Rodgers and Hammerstein's take on the classic tale.

Cinderella Star Santino Fontana on the Unexpected Joy of Playing Prince Charming, Plus Hamlet, Earnest & More

Cinderella Star Santino Fontana on the Unexpected Joy of Playing Prince Charming, Plus Hamlet, Earnest & More
Santino Fontana reviews career highlights from the Prince of Denmark to Prince Topher.

Santino Fontana laughingly describes a casting director’s reaction to the news that the young actor would be playing Prince Charming in Cinderella. “He said to my agent, ‘Is this the dark version?’” After all, Fontana had previously been seen as angry older brother Tony in Billy Elliot and a depressed and ailing writer’s assistant in the acclaimed drama Sons of the Prophet. Nowadays, you’re more likely to find him joking around backstage with Cinderella co-star Laura Osnes—not to mention Herman the fish. Fontana’s smart and charming comic performance as Topher netted him a 2013 Tony nomination and a spot on his Role Call alongside a rich mix of plays and musicals.

Role That Was the Most Unexpected
“If you had told me a year ago that I would be playing Prince Charming on Broadway [in Cinderella; Best Actor Tony nomination], I would have said you were insane. I also dance for 90 minutes and lift Laura Osnes nine times! I don’t think anyone would have predicted I’d be waltzing in a light romantic comedy—and getting a Tony nomination for it was shocking, but also really lovely. People have a lot of history with this show, whether from the Julie Andrews version or Lesley Ann Warren or Brandy, and that scared me, but audiences have really embraced us. [Librettist] Douglas Carter Beane’s script spoke to me because he made [Topher] funny. The show starts with the prince singing this existential song, “Me, Who Am I?” and ends with him becoming king and getting married. He’s awkward and young, but he grows up by the end. Doug humanized the character; he laid it all down in a playful way, and it was a joy to fill in.”

Role That Was a Perfect Fit
Sons of the Prophet [2011, as Joseph Douaihy; Lucille Lortel and Obie Awards] came along at the perfect time in my life, and the role fit so well. Stephen Karam, the playwright, wrote how I talk, and I talked how he wrote. He also tapped into an emotional connection that I hadn’t been able to express. This was the first play I did after being injured [and dropping out of A View from the Bridge], and it was an honor to step into the shoes of a young man who deserved to be heard, in a story we don’t hear very often. It was a play about having to grow up very quickly and get to the other side of pain while taking control of a family. His father dies, and he’s afraid that he is dying. How does he go on? Stephen has talked about writing a trilogy of plays with these characters, so they may come back. I hope so.”

Role That Was a Game-Changer
“Being cast as Hamlet [at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, 2006] was a ‘before’ and ‘after’ moment: People looked at me in a different light after that. I was 23 and had been a company member at the Guthrie for a year and a half when they held auditions for the role, which is unheard of—usually you know who your Hamlet will be. I had directed a student production that toured high schools, so I knew the play inside and out. The role has a lot of baggage, but I just started with the fact that his dad has passed away, his mom married his uncle and he has to stay home longer than he wants to. Everything after that is Hamlet trying to figure out how to get things back to the way they were. People say he’s not active, but he’s incredibly active—he keeps changing his mind because he knows he’s only got one shot, and he’s trying to figure out who he can trust. It’s one of those plays that never really leaves you. I wish I could do it again.”

Role I Wish I Could Have Played Longer
Brighton Beach Memoirs [2009, as Stanley Jerome] was heartbreaking. [The revival of Neil Simon’s play closed one week after opening.] It was the first time I had done a straight play on Broadway with a meaty character; we thought we had found something really, really special, and then it got cut short. I had told people to wait until Broadway Bound [which was cancelled before previews] opened to see both plays, but I don’t really know the reason [for the abrupt closing]. Stanley was a lovable screw-up. He was always trying to help the family, and yet he would mess things up on a huge scale! From the outside, we can have perspective and say, ‘You’re going to be fine,’ but to him, everything was life and death, and it’s always great to play a character with high stakes. I’m still very close to Noah Robbins [Eugene], Dennis Boutsikaris [Jack], Jessica Hecht [Blanche] and [director] David Cromer. We were in the war together.”

Role That Was My Broadway Debut
“I didn’t have much to do in Sunday in the Park With George [2008, as Soldier, Alex and Bather] but getting that show helped me put down roots in New York, and it was so moving to get to listen to the score every night. I remember sitting in the green room with Jessica Molaskey and Anne Nathan listening to the section from ‘Children and Art’ to ‘Lesson #8’ to ‘Move On.’ As an artist, it really speaks to you and reminds you that you’re doing the right thing. Just to have that music in your brain and your body changes you—you feel like everything is possible. I’ll never forget the sitzprobe, when we were rehearsing with the orchestra for the first time, and [Stephen Sondheim] was there. Of course, everyone was looking to see how he was reacting. In ‘It’s Hot Up Here,’ I had the line, ‘I like the one in the light hat.’ When I said that line, he let out an abrupt ‘Ha!’ in a surprised way. Who knows, he could have hated it, but I took that has a biggest sign of approval!”

Role That Was the Most Playful
“Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest [2011] was the most joyful character I’ve played. He’s a progressive hedonist: He changes the rules as he goes along because he just wants to feel good all the time. He’s going to flirt with whoever he wants, wear whatever he wants; I was standing in for Oscar Wilde in a way, with great quotes like ‘Life is too important to be taken seriously.’ Desmond Heeley, who won the Tony for best costumes, did a lot of the work for us. I had these ridiculous and hilarious costumes that said so much about who Algernon was. I had never seen the play, so I was very happy to fulfill [director and co-star] Brian Bedford’s vision. David Furr, who was great as Jack [Worthing], had all the angst, and my job was just to have a blast. And I got to eat a bunch of carbs—four muffins and eight sandwiches—every night. The whole experience was really fun.”

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