Justin Fortunato didn't exactly have a rough start to his career, at least in high school. The 2007 Baldwin High graduate was a rare Gene Kelly Award winner as a freshman and earned Kelly nominations three other times at Baldwin for excellence in local scholastic theater.
The Tony Award-winning musical—Fortunato calls it "more of a play with music"—presents the heroes of the American Revolution in rousing songs and dances, comic encounters and impassioned politics.
Directed by Ted Pappas, the show will run at the O'Reilly from Jan. 24 to Feb. 24. Click here for times and to buy tickets, which cost anywhere from $15.75 to $60 each.
With a 26-member cast, plus an orchestra, '1776' will be the biggest production in Pittsburgh Public Theater history, according to a news release.
Fortunato, a 2011 graduate of Point Park University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theater, auditioned for the musical in March 2012 and won the role of colonial workingman "Leather Apron." He is also an understudy for three other characters, including "Thomas Jefferson," who needs no introduction.
"(The musical) kind of draws the curtain back," punned Fortunato, "when it comes to these figures, these men that we've kind of turned into demigods—like Ben Franklin and John Adams, even George Washington—and it really humanizes the story.
"It paints a beautiful portrait of patriotism and politics, and even more than that, it follows John Adams' dream of believing in something, standing for it and following it through to the end. And that's something an audience will able to relate with."
Fortunato's Kelly Award-winning turn came as "Moonface Martin" in Baldwin's 2004 production of "Anything Goes," of which he took Best Supporting Actor honors.
The Kelly Awards, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, were launched as a means to recognize and encourage student achievement and to focus the attention of the (local) community and school districts on the importance of musical theater and arts education.
Baldwin High, an annual participant in the Kelly Awards, is renowned for its music and theater programs, and Fortunato greatly credits his time at Baldwin for helping to shape his career.
"My passion for theater definitely started at Baldwin," he said, "especially under the direction of Kris Tranter, who's still the head of the musical department there, and his work ethic and vision is definitely something that motivated me and let me know that I wanted to do this for a career.
"He took it so seriously, and he took it as serious as I did."
Perhaps Fortunato can pay Tranter's guidance forward. The up-and-comer is directing a musical at West Allegheny High School this spring.
"I'm really excited about the prospect of being able to excite another young person with high school theater," Fortunato said.
"The thing I love about Baldwin is we were treated as professionals, so I'm really excited that I can help another young person maybe decide that they wanna go out and fight the fight and do this for a career."
We remind you that the Baldwin-Whitehall Friends of the Theater Arts (BWFTA) is looking for folks to buy tickets for the Feb. 2 showing of '1776.'
Proceeds benefit the BWFTA, a nonprofit organization that is focused on providing an exceptional theater arts environment for its community, including, most importantly, the students of the Baldwin-Whitehall School District.
More info!: http://patch.com/B-cDrp
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