By Rick Coates
Dominic Fortuna is back in Northern Michigan, at least for the moment. Fresh off his third stint with Grease, that kept Fortuna on Broadway and on the road for much of the past three and half years, he is happy to be back in Northern Michigan and working on a new summer season.
Fortuna and his wife Ashley Moeggenberg Fortuna are producing three shows this summer at the Williamsburg Dinner Theater beginning this Friday, July 1 and continuing through August.
I launched the Williamsburg Dinner Theater eight years ago and we have had a great run and we want to keep it going, said Fortuna, who is a 33-year veteran of the regions entertainment scene. My wife and I talked and decided we are going to put everything we can into making this work as we want to stay here in Northern Michigan and be performers and raise our children.
The challenge Fortuna is facing is that the rest of the country is calling for his talent. Vegas wants him, so does LA and Nashville and New York is also calling and they want him back.
I started performing in Northern Michigan in 1978 at Brownwood, I was in the Young Americans and built a following performing at my fathers restaurant, said Fortuna. I have been fortunate to be able to perform throughout the region and I love it here; I am hoping to stay but I have to make it work financially.
While enjoying the comforts of home, Fortuna wanted to know if he had what it took to perform on a national level. He began exploring opportunities outside of Northern Michigan a few years back that led to appearances on Dick Clarks Your Big Break and NBCs Grease: Youre the One That I Want.
Fortuna has also over the years has shared the stage with stars including Dean Martin, Barry Manilow and Joe Piscopo. His big break with NBCs Grease (an American Idol-style show to create the Broadway cast for the musicals revival that was a huge hit with 30 million viewers) came with some challenges.
I went down to Chicago in October of 2006 for an audition and one of the writers/producers of the show spotted me. And it was a good thing because the lines were long and after waiting several hours I realized that I wasnt going to get my chance. So I got out of line and went up and handed my resume and photos to one of the organizers because I had to get back to the Williamsburg to do a show that night, said Fortuna.
Well they told me that one of the writers, Jim Jacobs, was interested in me and so I got to move to the front of the line. They liked what I did and asked me to come back the next day for the dance auditions. So I drove home, did the Dinner Theater, slept for about two hours and left at 2 a.m. to head back to Chicago. They liked my dance audition and they asked if I could come back the next day. So I had to drive back again for a Dinner Theater show and again leave at 2 a.m. I got back and they told me I was moving on to the semi-finals in LA.
VINCE IS THE WORD
Well, Fortuna was auditioning for the lead and his luck would turn sort of after arriving in LA.
I arrived and they decided I was too old to play the part of Danny and I responded find me an older Sandy. They came back and said well you are too short as well, and I said find me a shorter Sandy, said Fortuna. But then they (producers) told me they wanted me to play the part of Vince Fontaine on Broadway.
The producers kept their word and contacted Fortuna, eventually sending him a script and flying him to New York to read and sing in front of the writers and producers.
Well they threw me a curveball and said that the previous Vince Fontaine, who happened to be my friend Joe Piscopo, also did a warm up act prior to curtain going up for about 15 minutes and they asked me to show them what I would do if they were to give that to me as well. So with about 30 seconds of thought I put a comedic routine together that included audience interaction, said Fortuna. Well, they told me they would get back to me. So I head to the airport to get on a plane at La Guardia wondering if they would call and my phone rings and they told me they wanted me for Broadway and for the eventual national tour for both the Vince Fontaine part and the pre performance stand-up routine.
Fortuna starred on Broadway along with American Idol winner Taylor Hicks for a year and eventually went on a 49-city two-year tour of the off-Broadway production of Grease with Hicks. Fortuna received rave reviews and often he was singled out as the bright spot or the best performance in the reviews. His opening act also received two thumbs up from the critics. At each tour stop the media sought out both Fortuna and Hicks for interviews.
It was great because I got to to promote Traverse City and Northern Michigan in every major city in the country in several publications and on TV, said Fortuna.
Fortuna left the Grease tour last fall to return home to be with his family and to get the Williamsburg Dinner Theater back on track but what he found was sort of an out of sight, out of mind response when he returned home.
Its not like people forgot me but it was like what have you been up to, havent heard your name much lately sort of thing, said Fortuna. I was under the impression that all of these reviews were getting back home but I guess not. I was on CNN, in major publications but word didnt get back.
With business being slow, Fortuna received a call late this winter asking him to return to Grease to finish the tour.
The person playing the role of Teen Angel and Vince Fontaine left the tour to be with his family and they called and asked me to finish the tour, said Fortuna. It was great as I was billed as the headliner. I just finished a couple of weeks ago and now I am focused on the Williamsburg Dinner Theater.
Fortuna and his wife said they are going to see if they can make it go and if not he is going to entertain some options in Vegas or New York this fall.
The Williamsburg Dinner Theater will offer three different musical tribute shows through the rest of the summer.
Country Cool on Thursdays will feature country hits from Johnny Cash to Shania Twain and everything in between.
Yesterday Once More focuses on the iconic music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s including TV, movies, and more on Friday nights.
Rock N Roll Heaven on Saturdays is a tribute to the best of entertainers who have have passed on from Elvis to Hendrix to Judy Garland and several in between.
Make reservations and review the schedule at www.cateringbykellys.com or call the box office at 231-938-2181. Both Fortuna and his shows are also available for private events.