Overland Park native Anthony Fortino moved to New York last June with a dream of making it on Broadway.
Unlike a lot of young artists, though, the 24-year-old didn’t wait tables to pay the rent. He got a job at Ernst & Young, the gargantuan accounting firm.
See, after graduating from Curé of Ars and St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Fortino earned three degrees at Texas Christian University: a bachelor of arts in theater, along with a bachelor’s and master’s in, yes, accounting.
The plan, Fortino said, was to work at the firm while auditioning as much as possible. That plan changed almost immediately, though. Scarcely more than a month after moving to the city, he was cast in the national touring production of “Fun Home,” which stops at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts starting Tuesday.
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“I worked there for about five weeks total,” he said with a laugh. “It was not at all what I expected. I expected to be working in New York for a while and auditioning for stuff while I could. I have friends in New York that have been auditioning every day for years. I ended up being cast a lot quicker than I ever expected.”
“Fun Home,” which won five Tony Awards including best musical, was adapted from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir about discovering her own sexuality. It’s believed to be the first Broadway musical with an out lesbian protagonist. The show is also probably the first successful musical to be set at a family funeral home. Hence the name. The “fun” in the title is short for “funeral.”
Fortino is understudy for four smaller roles: Roy, Pete, Mark and Bobby Jeremy. He’s also dance captain for the show, making him a bit of a hybrid. To use a sports metaphor, Anthony is half-backup player, half-bench coach.
“ ‘Fun Home’ is not a dance-heavy show,” he said. “My responsibilities as dance captain are basically warming up the children every night. I put them through a physical warmup.” (In the time-shifting plot, the children are Alison when she was young, along with her two brothers.)
Fortino also serves as a sort of choreographic caretaker, keeping the show as true as possible to the original.
“I’ll watch all the dance numbers and take notes on everything — any spacing issues — and serve as sort of the extension of the choreographer while we’re on the road. I don’t consider myself a proficient dancer by any means, but it’s been a really cool experience to serve in the role.”
The experience is made doubly cool by Fortino’s return to KC. “I’ve never even been inside the Kaufman Center!” he said. “It was still under construction when I moved to Texas.”
Fortino had plenty of theater experience before he even started college. His first musical was the eighth-grade production of “A Music Man” (he starred as Harold Hill), and he was active in Musical Theater for Young People and Johnson County’s Theatre in the Park, where he starred as Troy in “High School Musical.”
“Fun Home” continues touring until Dec. 3. Then Fortino returns to New York City. After that, who knows? He wants to keep performing and plans to keep auditioning but doesn’t know what the future holds. Besides, Broadway offers more than the spotlight — as his current dance captaincy suggests — and he would love to put his gift for numbers to work on the Great White Way.
“As I grow in this business and make more connections, the dream will probably sort of morph,” he said. “It’s sort of ever-evolving. But now that I’ve been on this tour, well, I definitely still aspire to be on Broadway and make some sort of impact in the theater world. That might be through performing, but it also might mean using my accounting degree to help better the business side in the theater world.”
“People don’t necessarily aspire to be a producer,” he said. “That’s because they don’t really know what goes into the job. But the more I’ve learned about it, the more I find it incredibly interesting and see how much of an impact it can make on the theater community — if you are a good producer and put your money behind work that means something, as opposed to those that are just going to bring money in.”
Of course, whatever the future holds, he will always have those accounting degrees to fall back on. If the past is prologue, however, he probably won’t have to fall back at all.
“Fun Home” runs May 30 through June 4 in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. See theaterleague.com/kansascity or call 816-421-7500.