First-Time Tony Nominee: Santino Fontana overcomes adversity and charms audiences as Prince Topher in ‘Cinderella’

Santino Fontana

Santino Fontana

As Ella falls in love with Prince Topher, the audience falls in love with Santino Fontana’s portrayal of the reimagined fairytale prince in Cinderella. From the opening scene in which he slays a monster and declares that he wishes he was doing something “important” with his life to the final moment in which Ella and Topher live happily ever after, Fontana steals the show as the well-intentioned but clumsy and somewhat neurotic prince.

And while some might not be familiar with Fontana’s previous work, the Washington native made his Broadway debut in 2008 with Sundays in the Park with George, Fontana blends comedy, romance and a hint of naivety in his original role as Topher and received his first Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. Prior to Cinderella, Fontana was best-known by many for his role as Aaron Miller in the web series Submissions Only.

Fontana’s strong acting skills and command of the stage aren’t the only things working in his favor. Topher’s deadpan humor which continuously surfaces throughout the show, and creates laughter from audience members of all ages, helps to keep the production light, fun and engaging. Notably in one scene, Topher discusses how he was sent to an all-boys school before transferring to an all-boy’s college on an island per the request of his guardian. After a brief pause, he follows the re-hashing of his education with the question, “Why would you do that to me?”

It’s in the small moments that Fontana shines as a performer, allowing leading lady Laura Osnes to take front and center while supporting her performance and carrying the show as the leading man. While their onstage chemistry is strong, the vocal chemistry between Fontana and Osnes is enchanting. From Fontana’s first song, “Me, Who Am I?” which introduces Topher’s character, to the famous romantic ballads “Ten Minutes Ago”, “Loneliness of Evening” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”, it’s easy to feel swept away while listening to Fontana’s smooth, rich vocals.

But perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of Fontana goes beyond his enormous talent. Fontana admits that he strives to be a chameleon with his roles and enjoys being virtually unrecognizable to fans who meet him at stage door. He has been a hidden gem in the Broadway community for several years, is one of the strongest and hard-working men in the industry and proves that perseverance and optimism makes all the difference while confronting difficult situations.

Described by Osnes as “sarcastic but in a good way”, it could also be said that Fontana is an unfazed and remarkable artist in the best way.

After the first two weeks of previews of the Broadway revival of A View From the Bridge, which starred Hollywood stars Liev Shrieber and Scarlett Johansson and played from Jan. 10 to April 4, 2010, Fontana was forced to drop out from his role as Rodolpho due to a head injury.

Instead of trying to force himself back into the role, or retaining the rights to say he was the revival’s original romantic lead, Fontana sacrificed the distinction because he claimed it “didn’t feel right” because he didn’t open with the production.

Fontana’s eternal optimism and kind-hearted nature is even more staggering because his recovery process required him to spend three weeks in the dark. “No TV, no computer, no reading,” Fontana said in an interview in 2011. “You learn a lot about yourself when that happens.”

After his recovery, Fontana became involved with the play Sons of Prophet which was initially read to him by a friend during his bed rest. Attending a reading for the play was one of the first trips made after his injury and Fontana admitted later that he hadn’t read the script in its entirety but when he read the line “I’m not doing good; it’s been a bad year” with representatives of the Roundabout Theatre Company and the Sons of Prophet production team present, Fontana said he “just lost it” because it was a reflection of what had been an extremely difficult year.

But Fontana, who could have every reason to turn bitter or resentful towards acting or missed opportunities, is almost always smiling, offering quips and one of the most laid-back and jovial guys anyone could have the good fortune to meet. So while he might not be a “front-runner” in his category, Fontana is without question the most inspiring for his perseverance, his emotional, mental, and physical strength and for being the type of person who always looks for the good in a situation.

In other words, Fontana is the kind of guy who proves that “impossible things are happening every day.”

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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