Turns out Dominic Fortuna, who deftly plays the WAXX DJ Vince Fontaine in the national road company of Grease now at the Hobby Center, was a former contestant on the reality show Grease: You're the One that I Want! -- the reality series that searched the United States for budding stars to put in the lead roles of Danny and Sandy for the 2007 Broadway revival.
He drove five hours to the Chicago audition from his home in northern Michigan, drove home the same night and came back the next day for a call back. Fortuna made it to the semi-finals before being cut. "They said I was too old," he told Hair Balls.
But director Kathleen Marshall and especially playwright Jim Jacobs (who co-wrote the books, music and lyrics for Grease and who was a judge on the reality show) said they'd like to find a spot for him in the musical.
He didn't get the original revival nod -- Fortuna says with two novice leads Marshall wanted someone with Broadway experience for the Fontaine role -- but he did get the call about two years later, debuted on Broadway and hit the road last November.
"It hasn't stopped since," he says.
And there's no way he's going to disrespect American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, who comes on in the second half to play the Teen Angel.
"Taylor and I connect pretty good. He and I are cut from the same cloth. We're both musicians that have gigged all our lives, we're just blue collar working stiffs that just work our butts off and all of a sudden we're actors," he says.
"I respect the guy's voice. I think he's got an unbelievable charisma or energy in his voice when he sings. It really wakes up your senses when you hear him. Whoa -- that guy is not holding back."
If you've only seen the movie, it's a little unexpected when Fortuna as Vince sings the "Born to Hand-Jive" song in the show.
According to Fortuna, the Vince role has morphed over the years, at times melding into the part of Johnny Casino, the band leader and singer at the high school hop. In some editions of Grease, including the movie version, Casino sings the hand jive, while Vince walks around, an older guy hitting on all the young girls. But in this one, it's Fortuna who sings the fast paced song during the dance competition.
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But what first catches the audiences attention, as Hair Balls noted the other day, is his pre-show crowd warm-up.
"People don't know they're being warmed up. You just really got to have fun with it. You have different audiences and you really have to find people who are into it. And it gets contagious before the third number's over, everybody is like hey, why aren't I into this. If they're talking with someone else or if they're in the lobby, they're saying wow, there's really something going on out there. And then everybody just says wow, I'm ready. Let's see Grease."
Fortuna says in tackling the warm-up part of his performance, it helped that he came from a family in the restaurant business (and, in fact, operates his own dinner theater in Michigan nowadays.) "My mom and dad are both great hosts and I had learned a lot on just being a host with people. My father also was a singer. He had a trio that would be playing at the restaurant and I started doing that with him. Before you know it, you just learn how people are and to be a good host."
"I really come at them. You paid the money and I'm going to give your money's worth to get you ready to see something that's amazing, that's been an American phenomenom for all these years.