September 4, 2010

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Michael Lomenda!

September 4th, 2010

By Frances Fong-Lee, JBB Special Correspondent

Frances Fong-Lee: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me, Michael. How does it feel to be part of the award-winning, critically and viewer-acclaimed hit show “Jersey Boys”?

Michael Lomenda: It’s hard to sum up in words…it’s really been the most overwhelmingly incredible experience of my career, and life too – to date. From working on the show itself, to the stuff we’ve done in the community and PR we’ve been able to do to the stuff we’ve gone through as a cast, we’ve really run this awesome gamut – It’s been a true milestone and huge honour to be with this show and especially for such a great run – we’ve really had an incredible go at it, and I feel so grateful to have been part of it.

FFL: I noticed that you were a part of the Musical Theatre program at Sheridan College. Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?

ML: Not really. I always thought I was into art and music – a family friend gave me his piano when I was 6 so I started in on the classical piano lessons and all that, and sang in school – Bell choir – I was the B flat bell – one of my earliest accomplishments: not getting beat up over bell choir. But I kinda wanted to be an architect – I took drafting and loved math and my Dad was a carpenter – but I always thought I’d do “theatre” on the side. But then a great pair of young teachers moved to my small hometown and took me under their wings – Mr. Dobson was Drama and English and Ms. Pearson was Art. They ended up marrying each other and moving to Ontario the same summer I came out for Sheridan’s Music Theatre Program. Anyway, they gave me great opportunities to explore early on and so eventually my focus shifted mainly to theatre. But when I auditioned for Sheridan, my highest belt note was, oddly enough, a B flat below middle C…so I had some serious vocal work to do!! Dance was also newish to me and the acting I felt more comfortable with since I’d been working on it, but I was seriously behind the 8 ball going into that school.

FFL: How did you get started in musical theatre and what inspired you?

ML: Really it was the piano lessons I took early on and in my first year of acting at Red Deer College. We were doing this Christmas musical, and I was in the ensemble but one of the guys cast as a lead couldn’t sing his part, so two or so weeks before we opened they slotted me in – but made me keep all my other ensemble parts too – I was shitting bricks…but I loved it. Oh, and that same year, my friend gave me a tape – yeah, I’m that old – of this show called RENT…I knew all the tracks within the week.

FFL: How did you get started in show biz?

ML: My first gig out of school was with Danny Austin funnily enough and it was called “Somewhere in the World” for the Charlottetown Festival Young Company. I was the “Traveler” which was totally prophetic, because I’m rarely in the same place for a long time. “Jersey Boys” was the first time I was able to live at my own Toronto house for more than a couple months at a time.

FFL: I also noticed that you were in quite a number of musicals at Stage West, like Guys and Dolls, A Chorus Line, Grease, and Footloose! Who did you play in those musicals, respectively? What was the experience at Stage West like? How did performing in these musicals help prepare you for your role in Jersey Boys?

ML: Stage West Calgary was some of the first theatre I saw in Alberta after I had made my decision to commit to this career and it was close to my home town. I got my first gig with them in “Footloose” – thanks to Tim French and Kira Campbell who, since that first gig, have been so very loyal to me. They also have a great sister theatre in Mississauga, so I’ve been lucky to do tons of great stuff out there too. Also, besides doing musical theatre with Stage West, I’ve done a lot of review style rock shows which, I think totally prepped me vocally for “Jersey Boys” which is this awesome hybrid of pop rock music with killer scene work.

FFL: What led you to audition for Jersey Boys? Tell us about the audition process.

ML: Well…about a year before the Toronto auditions, the “Jersey Boys” creatives came up to Toronto and called me in and I remember it vividly cause it was sweltering: I was wearing a suit of course and my family was in town visiting…I was super nervous and psyched myself out and gave, in my books, what was one of my top ten worst auditions…but they called a year or so later – I remember saying to my agent “Are you sure they wanna see me?” – but I went in, and was more prepared. They had sent me Bob sides, and in my research I noticed all the Bob’s were way better looking than me and all the Nick’s were kinda darker brooding types and sang Bass – so I called my agent and asked her to send me the sides for Nick too, just in case. And, sure enough, they asked me to read for Nick. Then I flew out to do a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” on the East coast and had to fly back twice during my tech of that show, to do finals for “Jersey Boys”. Then on opening night of “Rocky”, my agent called and said, “If there is a Toronto company, you’re first on their list for Nick. BUT don’t tell anyone because it’s all up in the air still.” So I finished “Rocky” and went into rehearsals immediately for “Forever Plaid” back in Ontario and waited – and three days before we opened “Plaid”, I got the call that said the Canadian company was a go. It was an agonizing two weeks of waiting but such a killer pay off!!

FFL: Let’s talk about the character you play in the show: Nick Massi. What did you do to prepare for that part?

ML: Preparing for Nicky was challenging. There is not a whole lot written about him because he left early on in the Four Seasons’ history, so I spent a lot of time watching “The Sopranos”, and tons of other Mafia style classics, as well as reading up on 50‘s 60’s Jersey. I rented a bass to learn and get familiar and then just listened to their music over and over again. Youtube clips – photos of old Jersey – I’m a visual guy so that kinda stuff is what I like to use – and of course the dialect – it’s so great to be able to work on such an iconic accent!

FFL: What’s the most exciting and the most challenging part of playing Nick?

The most exciting is definitely singing that music with these guys – it’s such a thrill to come to “work” and feel like a rock star every night – it’s unbelievable the energy from the audience. The most challenging? – Probably the fact that Nicky is quiet – he says the least out of the four guys and just trusting that his silence speaks volumes can be a challenge. Des (McAnuff) gave me the advice to give over to the fact that Nick is the mysterious one. I took that to mean I should trust the writing and to “live in” rather than worry too much about “filling in” Nick’s silences.

FFL: Is this the longest you’ve been in one show, and how has this experience been different from your other acting jobs?

ML: Yeah, this is a milestone for me – previous to this was like nine months or something and so this is a crazy different beast. People come and go from the cast, the show develops its own legs a bit, and things evolve – but ultimately it is such a wicked experience because for the first time in my career, I’ve felt like I can breath for a sec! With shorter gigs, you’re always thinking about the future and auditioning and looking for a place to live across the country so sometimes it can be hard to just chill and do your gig and really love the place you’re in. This show really gave that to me for the first time ever.

FFL: You do eight shows a week. How do you keep your character fresh, particularly when doing two shows on the same day?

ML: Well, different Frankies do that job for me which is cool! and audiences too – it’s really all about the audience with this show – we are so interactive with the direct address portions of the show that I really feed off them – I can really sense if they are listening hard or super rowdy and ready for a party, so that changes the vibe.

FFL: What do you think Nick’s role was in the dynamic of the Four Seasons? How did they succeed thanks to him?

ML: I think Nick was the OZ guy – the kinda behind-the-scenes genius in his own right – Bob attributes their sound a lot to Nick because of the arrangements and harmonies and Frankie talks about Nicky getting him started with singing – and I’d like to think he had a cool sense of humor – I feel like the little bit of early footage I’ve seen of Nick performing, he had an awesome “shit-disturber twinkle” – oh sorry, I swore – and said sorry – awesome! Anyway, “trouble maker twinkle” in his eye that I think Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman saw too – thus some of Nick’s great comedy in the show.

FFL: How much does the audience affect your performance—e.g., a lively supportive audience versus a quiet, less involved audience, and so on?

ML: It’s huge especially with this show – and having seen this show elsewhere in the world, audiences are different all over the world, but they all get on their feet cheering and hang off every word.

FFL: Let’s talk about the cast – if you were going to give a one-word description of each of the Jersey Boys you work with (Jeff, Dan, and Quinn) what would it be and why?

ML: A word and why for each guy hey?

Okay Jeffy – driven – the man is a machine and understands the incredible weight of playing Frankie’s journey so well.

Dan yes Dan is “The Comedian” – I call him DR. S like his initials – and I was thinking the other day of why I like that as a name for him – I guess it’s kinda like if you had to go in to the Doc – Dan is the exact person you wanna be your Doc – chilled positive energy and a great slightly off- center sense of humor – and he doesn’t let things phase him, not ‘cause he’s not sensitive, but just ‘cause he’s super grounded. I guess that comes from being so old like he is.

and Quinn – he’s my “little big bro” or “big little bro” – I feel like we go way back because we’re both small town boys – we both cried at the movie “Into the Wild” – he’ll kill me for saying that.

FFL: Offstage, do you share any similarities with the Nick Massi character?

ML: Yeah! We share the same birthday! weird hey – I have a video blog of me the night I discovered that in my research – I kinda thought I was being punked or something…but yeah, I am a borderline OCD guy – tiny soap I’m fine with but towels on the floor drive me bonkers – and I totally get the outburst I have at Tommy in the second act – when my personal space is a mess, I am outta whack. And, I guess, I think Nick valued respect and conducting yourself in a classy way and I certainly try to emulate that.

FFL: What was it like being nominated for a 2009 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male in a Principal Role as Nick Massi in Jersey Boys? What was your reaction like when you first learnt of the nomination? What was the experience like at the Dora Awards?

ML: Such an honor. To be in the company of the people we were surrounded by that night and to share that with the guys and just to be part of a momentous night like that was such a highlight.

FFL: I also noticed that you were the music director for “Catch a Rising Star” at Sheridan College. What was that experience like? Did being a director help you with your acting? What did you learn most about the role of being a director?

ML: That was a great experience for me – I think any time you can get the sense of what it is like to be on the other side of the table as an actor is a huge eye-opener. I think directing and music direction have really shown me that the people who excel in these fields are incredible communicators. It is such a daunting task to stand in front of a group of people who all learn in different ways and speak their own different artistic language and have the task of first communicating clearly your artistic vision to all those peeps and getting them on board, but then finding a way to get the best out of each of those individuals – such a feat. I bow to those people – because it’s a delicate art and a vulnerable balancing game at times.

FFL: What do you want the audience to come away with—emotionally or intellectually? Is there something to be learned here or is it just great entertainment?

ML: Yeah, I think awesome entertainment is, I think, first and foremost, but also I think to love these guys, faults and all, and to really identify with the sense of family and loyalty these men felt for each other.

FFL: What has been your most embarrassing moment on stage – either with Jersey Boys or another show?

ML: Hmmmm…incriminating question…well, we had this week, I’m only telling this story cause I told it to Bob Gaudio when he was here…we had this week where Dan was joining the cast and also Alison [Smyth] was joining the cast too, so we were all in for rehearsals a bunch and I was starting to get a bit bagged – so in the evening show, in the first act, during the church scene everything goes well, until my exit lines going up the spiral staircase – and I usually say “Work on that b flat Frankie – chest voice and do your exercises!” and instead I say, “Work on that b flat Frankie – chest voice and do you HEAD!” and then I tripped on the stairs and let out a low groan on mic as I rebound off the railing. In my mind I was thinking chest voice and head voice exercises…but there was really no going back once you yell “DO YOUR HEAD!” at someone – too funny – and then, of course, everyone in the cast had to do their version of what I said for me, so I heard it again about 25 times before the next show and almost said it a second time! – I finally had to go on stage before the house opened one night just to do it right and get it out of my system – forgive me “Jersey Boys”.

FFL: What’s your favorite musical number in the show? What about your favourite scene? Any favourite lines in the show?

ML: Musical number – “Who Loves You” followed closely by “Beggin’”

Favorite scene – I really like the Donnie and Stosh scene – it’s hilarious to me!

Favorite line – You know what, I’m a sentimental freak so I love Frankie’s last monologue, because for me, I saw that on the Tonys and that’s when I really was sold on the show, because that was really my first introduction to that and then seeing that monologue on the Tonys, it just really gets you, and going into “Who Loves You” – you can’t get much better than that; that’s killer theatre!

FFL: What makes this show, particularly this cast, so fun to work with?

ML: I think when you get a group of people together who really take pride in their work and honor the show the rest is really gravy – these people all know that the show we’re working on is something special that doesn’t come through Toronto all the time – it’s very unique and so we give er’. That’s a great feeling to know that we’re all on the same page.

FFL: Why do you think people keep coming back to see Jersey Boys?

ML: The show is phrenetic – it courses through you. You can sense that energy and audience investment from our vantage point on the stage and I think that’s something that’s rare and even a bit addictive nowadays – when we are berated with so much surface stimulus in our day-to-day people hone in on the stuff that affects them on a deeper level.

FFL: Since joining the “Jersey Boys” Canadian Company, have you learned anything about yourself that you didn’t know before?

ML: Tons – and still learning…that’s why I work in this career, because it constantly gives me this great opportunity to explore myself while exploring other people’s lives.

FFL: Do you have a particular story or funny anecdote that has happened, either on or offstage, that you would like to share with the Jersey Boys Blog readers?

ML: I dunno – I guess I wanna encourage audience members to never feel self-conscious in the theatre. Some of the greatest moments I’ve ever had in this show have been seeing the audience response to the show from the stage – seeing this elderly gentleman get up and dance in the aisles with such commitment, I thought he’d break himself – but just outta such joy – it’s that kinda stuff that gets me. And I think, if you pay your ticket price, sure, you deserve to see great theatre, but you also owe it to yourself to be taken away on a journey. So clap, cheer, laugh, cry, invest, whatever, just give over to it – that’s the best way to get the best bang for your ticket price.

FFL: How has being in Jersey Boys changed your career—focus, direction, opportunities, national exposure, and so on?

ML: That’s a big question – well, this show is like nothing else I’ve ever done, and so it has really changed my whole outlook in the best way possible. I think I’d give a better answer to that question in a month or so when I’ve had time to jump off the Jersey train and process it all.

FFL: As you are finishing your amazing journey portraying Nick Massi in Toronto, what are you taking with you?

ML: A lot of love from the people involved in this show and the audiences. And also an incredible reaffirmation of why I am doing what I do. I don’t “get” what I “get” performing from anything else in life.

FFL: Last question to conclude this interview: Do you have any projects lined up after Jersey Boys ends?

ML: I do! I am conspiring, with the help of Danny Austin, to get back out to PEI after nine years since my first gig outta school under Danny’s direction. Funny how things come full circle – I’m doing “Hairspray” with the Charlottetown Festival. Corny Collins – who really couldn’t be more opposite from Nick Massi – but that’s kinda awesome too to dive into something so different right away. So I fly out the day after our closing and start up rehearsals for that – crazy turnover time – they are actually rehearsing now and I’m arriving late. So I guess it’s literally goodnight “Jersey Boys” and “Good Morning Baltimore”. So crazy! I’m gonna miss this so much. It’s really been this unbelievable dream ride for me.

FFL: Thank you so much, Michael!

ML: Yeah, thanks Frances, it was great!

1 Comment »

  1. Wow! Did not know Michael and Nick shared the same birthday! It is astounding the weird connections that have gone on with this show! Michael was fantastic, memorable and I so miss his Nicky! Great Interview!

    Comment by Nicola — September 5, 2010 @ 8:12 am

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