By Dana Casadei, EncoreMichigan
DETROIT – Some are lucky to figure out what they love doing from a young age. For Dominic Fortuna, being an entertainer has been running through his veins since he was 13.
Fortuna, who was born in Detroit and raised in Northern Michigan – where he still lives – is keeping his entertainment juices pumping by singing and dancing his way across the stage as Frank Abagnale, Sr., in the touring production of “Catch Me If You Can.”
“It’s a sleeper,” Fortuna said. “It’s one of those shows you gotta catch. It’s a true story and people love it.”
“Catch Me If You Can,” which will be at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit this May, is based off the 2002 Steven Spielberg directed film, where Christopher Walken originated the role. It tells the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a young man who created a number of identities, including doctor and pilot, and successfully conned millions of dollars.
While Fortuna has been an entertainer for some time, even a seasoned actor can be intimidated by playing an actual person.
“The first couple times I played the role I was very nervous,” Fortuna said. “I was kind of terrified of the fact that I was going to portray somebody’s father on stage.”
Luckily Fortuna was able to talk to his character’s real-life son, Abagnale, Jr.
“I had told him ‘I just want you to know I had a great relationship with my father, I understand I’m playing your father in the musical, and I prayed for the fact that he’s in peace and that I have had the honor of doing that for you,’” Fortuna said. “He was like ‘Great, I’m glad you talked to me about it.’ We got it out in the open.”
So how does he portray the father of one of the most infamous tricksters in history? Fortuna said that he plays him as a strong father that had a great relationship with his son, who found himself in a situation where he was losing everything.
“I try to portray that he has a slow decline throughout the whole musical, to a point where he is finally in a situation where he’s pretty much lost everything,” Fortuna said.
“He was a father who was teaching his son that a man should go after what he wants in life,” he said. “It’s all about the uniform, the way you look. People only know what you tell them.”
The father of two knows plenty about going after what he wants in life. After living in California, where he went to school with the internationally known group the Young Americans for four years, and toured with them, Fortuna came back to Northern Michigan.
He went back into the restaurant industry, working with his dad and doing some community theater. Then he decided he wanted to branch out, which included opening his own dinner theater and working out of New York, finding himself on Broadway in 2008 playing Vince Fontaine in “Grease,” and then touring in the same role from 2009-2011.
When asked about balancing both a dinner theater and being part of a national tour, he simply laughed and said, “My wife is a wonderful person.” She ran it while he was gone.
Fortuna said that he was writing the shows – the theater staged a lot of original work – sending them to her, and she was putting them on during the overlap, which is ironic since part of the reason he started the theater was because he couldn’t find a lot of work in Northern Michigan.
“I was just basically singing in bars and clubs doing convention shows and weddings and decided I wanted to branch out,” he said. “I decided I was going to create my own dinner theater.”
Fortuna ran The Williamsburg Showcase Dinner Theater for nine years, where he was a producer, director and writer of almost 50 shows, before closing it last December. Even though he is no longer involved with his entertainment company, Dominic Entertainment, is still around and will be doing dinner theater shows over the summer. The only difference is they won’t be doing them in one location but in a few across Michigan.
While The Williamsburg Showcase Dinner Theater is closed, he speaks warmly about it, saying that it created a lot of jobs and memories, including meeting his wife.
“For the nine years we had great shows, great times,” Fortuna said. “I love that kind of work.”
Fortuna said that he has a couple of irons in the fire for future projects, but nothing confirmed. He will play in a few festivals this summer with his band and do lots of auditioning.
Or maybe even get to hang out on his 21 acres here in the Mitten State.
Get tickets and showtimes at Encore Michigan.
Dana Casadei reviews local theater productions for www.EncoreMichigan.com, the state’s most comprehensive resource for news and information about Michigan’s professional theaters. Follow them on Facebook @EncoreMichigan.com.