Man Crush Monday: Santino Fontana
Fans of the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend were shocked earlier this month when it was revealed that fan favorite Santino Fontana would be departing the show. As Greg, the lovable, unrequited-lovestruck bar tender, Fontana has played no small part in the show’s success. But if you’re as big a Santino Fontana fan as we are, you know that his charm and lovability on the show was no fluke– in a career that spans both the stage and the screen, Fontana has proven again and again that he is a multi-talented powerhouse. How do we love Santino Fontana? Let us count the ways.
This is a performer who effortlessly hops between comedy and drama, who sings as well as he can act. He’s performed alongside everyone from Laura Osnes (more about that later) to Jennifer Lopez, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Tony Shalhoub, Andrea Martin… and even the characters from Sesame Street. He’s done Shakespearean tragedy, contemporary and classic musicals, dramas, and comedies with equal skill, poise, and talent. He’s performed in concerts, one-night events, and quickly-reheared, well-received productions for New York City Center’s Encores! series. (We loved his most recent turn in Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater this summer, by the way.) And, he’s even leant his golden voice to audiobooks (Stephen King has never sounded so sexy) and a Disney animated film (ever heard of Frozen?). He’s played princes (of the villainous, virtuous, and melancholy varieties), hopelessly flawed heroes, and everything in between. He’s a commanding, confident presence on every board he treads and has received accolades of the highest order, including a Drama Desk Award and a Tony nomination.
One of the highlights from his time on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was his perfectly old-fashioned, toe-tapping number “Settle for Me.” But this shouldn’t come as a surprise– Santino Fontana has old-school charm and a classic sensibility that has become rare in the entertainment world these days. As he claimed in a 2013 interview for BroadwayWorld TV, he grew up on old movies:
[…] My grandfather’s [been] a huge influence on me, and as a kid he babysat me a lot. He would take me to Blockbuster and rent a bunch of movies that he wanted to see, and then just sit me in front of the TV and watch them. So I grew up watching Singin’ in the Rain and Bridge Over the River Kwai and 12 Angry Men— a very bizzare, very eclectic group of movies. And then he would just rewind them and play them again. So I would just watch them over and over and over and over again. And it just captivated me. And I think because he loved them so much, I just started to love them so much. And then I wanted to start re-creating that.
Indeed, his crooning, honey-coated voice sounds like something out of the Golden Age of Hollywood. If Fontana appeared like a modern-day Fred Astaire in “Settle for Me,” then he has found his Ginger Rogers in Laura Osnes, his co-star on Broadway in the ridiculously charming Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. They have developed an on-stage rapport that entertains and delights. Just take a look at this cozy example of their great chemistry:
If you didn’t grin while watching this, please check your pulse. This delightful slice of musical magic in Central Park also shows off Fontana’s playfulness, both on and off stage. He is a performer that does not take himself too seriously, and so he has the freedom to follow his creative whims. Whether nailing Disney auditions by picking hilariously perfect songs, reciting Jersey Shore in the style of Oscar Wilde, or creating an adorable voice and personality for a pet fish, Fontana is witty, charming, and self-deprecating all at once, and these are all essential ingredients in the secret sauce of Santino Fontana’s success.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that funny people are almost always smart people, and Fontana is certainly no exception. He received a BFA in Acting at the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Actor Training Program, where he worked with mentor Kenneth Washington. Soon after graduating, he starred as Hamlet— one of the most iconic, challenging roles ever written– at the Guthrie at the ripe old age of 24, attracting national attention and helping him line up plum roles in New York City. In fact, even the great James Lapine has described Fontana as “smart” and “charming.” Fontana’s shrewd performances and choices as an actor evidence his personal intelligence and bring out nuances and complexities in his diverse roles.
Broadway success came quickly for Fontana. After debuting in Sunday in the Park with George, he perfected the notoriously difficult North Country accent in Elton John’s profoundly moving Billy Elliot. He even received his Drama Desk Award for his turn in the criminally short-lived, but enthusiastically reviewed Brighton Beach Memoirs.
It would be a mistake to claim that he traveled an easy yellow-brick road to success, however. Early in his career, he sustained a head injury during previews of a Broadway revival of Arthur Miller‘s A View from the Bridge (opposite Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber)– it was so severe that it sidelined his career for six months. According to Fontana, “From an MRI it looked like I had been in a car accident. The doctor flat-out said, ‘We don’t know how much of your memory will come back.’ I couldn’t get through the alphabet without stopping. I got migraines. I couldn’t use my eyes for three weeks; I had to stay in dark rooms.”
Fontana’s story is thus one of hard work, perseverance, and dedication to his craft: he marked his Broadway return with 2011’s The Importance of Being Earnest and 2013’s Cinderella. Greg’s groupies on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend should check out Submissions Only, a kind of cool kids table for Broadway talent– in this fun web series about life in the New York City theater scene, Fontana’s character pines for a friend, just like Greg pines for Rebecca. After repeated successes in Encores! productions of Zorba!, 1776, and Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, Fontana has quickly become one of the most in-demand actors currently working on Broadway.
We’re excited to see what comes next for this one-of-a-kind star. Based on his already rich career, though, we know that it’s only a matter of time before this gifted, goofy, insightful, silver-tongued, tap-dancing, play-making, whip-smart actor extraordinaire wows us yet again.
Catch Santino Fontana in his upcoming concerts. First, he’ll be performing alongside his wife Jessica Fontana and the Houston Symphony from December 2-6, 2016. You can also see him in a solo show at Lincoln Center on February 18, 2017, as part of the American Songbook series.
Photo Credit: The CW