By Alyssa Firth
Jersey Boys, a musical based on the life of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, has just finished up with its run at the Wharton Center. I had an opportunity to speak with Michael Lomenda while he toured in Omaha, Nebraska last month. Born and raised in Alberta, Canada, Lomenda tells TBG about how he got his start in musicals and what everyday life is like for a star in Jersey Boys.
Alyssa Firth: I haven’t seen the play, but I know your character is Nick. Can you describe him a little bit?
Michael Lomenda: Nick is the bassist of the group. He sings bass and he also plays bass, the instrument and he’s sort of the quiet, silent type, you know? He doesn’t say a whole lot in the group, but he’s credited by Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli as sort of the arranger of the group. He created a lot of the great vocal arrangements and also Frankie sometimes talks about him as the guy who helped him early on with his voice and coaching his voice early on, so Frankie’s got a pretty distinctive style so that’s kind of an awesome credit to his name.
AF: When and where did you start performing?
ML: When did I start performing? That’s a good question.
You know, it was sort of a young thing. I guess I kind of got into it early on. My dad was a pro hockey player in the states in the 70s and I kind of didn’t take to that, so I think my parents wanted to get their kids involved in something, so I kind of took to the arts and started early on playing classical piano and all that kind of stuff. And then performing wise, I sort of kind of fell into it.
My small town was like population 5,000, so there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity you’d think, but actually there was a surprising amount of opportunity. A young sort of drama teacher, an art teacher, came in and took me under their wing and it got me into the arts and gave me a lot of really great opportunities to perform and work with some great folks. And then I sort of moved out to Toronto for three years for Sheridan College which was a music theatre program and I had previously taken a year of acting in Alberta at Red Deer College and a bunch of my buddies were, you know, wanting to go on a trip to Toronto. It’s a four hour flight away from where I was taking school.
I said, “Sure, let’s go. Let’s go for a fun time. I’ll audition for this school.” And meanwhile, just really wanted to go out and have a good time and then I went to school, actually got into a school for three years and then it’s been around 10 years that I’ve been performing.
AF: I know you just rejoined the cast. Is this your first time being back with them or when did you come back?
ML: Well the Toronto Company was done in August of 2010 and there was about a six month hiatus where I did other shows and things like that and then they gave me a call and said they wanted me to come down and join this tour, the first national in Miami, because the guy who was playing Nick was going on a bit of a vacation. So I flew down to Baltimore and then I rehearsed with them in Baltimore for a week and then flew with them to Miami for three weeks, which was great, and then another five or six months passed and then they gave me a call and said they wanted me to come down as sort of a permanent person on tour. So I flew in not yesterday, but the day before, so I flew in Wednesday and I did some press in the morning. On Thursday I had to put in some rehearsal which is basically just, you know, you’re on stage with the cast and then last night I did my first show.
AF: How did that go?
ML: I think it went okay, this is certainly a very, I would say, a typical rehearsal process. Usually you get a couple more days to rehearse Usually you get your bearings, so this is a pretty fast process for me. It was kind of a roller coaster, but I think it went across okay.
AF: What’s an average day of rehearsal and performance for you?
MK: Well, we do eight shows a week and sometimes it changes. The schedules will change; different cities warrant different schedules. Usually you have evening performances around 8 or 7:30 and so you get up and I mean most theatre folks are not early risers because we sort of work at night, but I get up and go to the gym and grab a breakfast. I mean, I’m really excited about touring around the states and seeing the cities so I’ll be out, you know, being a geeky tourist, you know, taking in all the sights and going to the art galleries and all that stuff. Then basically, go for a half hour call for your evening show and some people arrive earlier, some people arrive later, but you have to be there at half hour, so I prefer to be there about 45 minutes early. And then you know you do your show and if there’s a rehearsal, they’ll call you during the day for probably about four hours and, you know, it’s pretty casual. Everybody sort of knows the rhythm of things around here, so they’ll go in for a rehearsal and work on whatever they need to and then we’ll go for dinner and then we do a show.
Yeah pretty simple. I think a lot of people think that we rehearse a lot and that’s not to say that we don’t. Sometimes there’s a lot of people coming and going from a company for whatever reason, whether they’re new swings or vacations or all that kind of stuff, that are coming in and things like that. There is a lot of rehearsal and lately there’s been a lot of rehearsal, but for the most part, you know, we have our weeks pretty much free which is great.
AF: What do you do personally to prepare for your role besides with the cast?
ML: Well, individually there’s of course I mean it’s sort of funny. The hair is kind of one of the big things about the period. It’s sort of 50s, 60s, 70s and if you go and look at some of those pictures online of that era and those guys during that era, they had some pretty awesome hair. So the hair takes a little bit of time cause you’re using- I certainly use a lot more hair gel and spray than I would use in my hair on a daily basis that’s for sure.
A lot of people do a vocal warm up, which is kind of key. especially Frankies. I know Frankies have very personalized, very specific warm up that helps them sing that hefty role. I mean, they sing 27 songs in the show and I think there’s like only 30 or something like that so they’re pretty much on stage for the whole show. They have a really extensive warm up. And like I said, it’s very specific. Some people don’t eat certain things during the day, like milk products and stuff like that because it’s harder to sing, but for me personally, I like to go to the gym ahead of time to get my body warmed up.
I get to the theatre about an hour to 45 minutes ahead of time and I like to go around and sort of chat with everybody and see how their day’s going and you know, just sort of connect with them cause we’re going to connect on stage in about an hour and it’s important to sort of touch base with everybody and then I start you know getting ready. I shave everyday, you put your hair on, you get your mic, you know, and you have to get all wired up and then you just sort of take your time to focus and do a little bit of a vocal warm up and what not and then you’re ready to go
AF: Did you always see yourself performing in broadway musicals? Was it what you had planned in the beginning?
ML: My life has a funny way of never really — if I don’t plan things, they just go in an awesome direction. That’s one thing I’ve learned. I just sort of go with the flow and let it take me where I’m going.
I mean certainly when you go to music theatre college and you study to go in the realm of music theatre, I think it’s a goal for everybody to do big, awesome broadway shows, especially like this one.
This is something that is, you know, it’s sort of funny it just kind of happened this way where I’ve come across this role at this point in my life and my career and I think it’s for me it’s been such a wonderful milestone for me to be doing this particular show at this point in my life, in my career. It’s just been the pinocle really for me and so yeah, I guess indirectly it’s been a goal to have something this gratifying to do at this point in my life and career, but I can’t say I’ve totally planned for it. It’s just kind of you know you sort of do your hard work and put your head down and hope that this kind of stuff happens.
AF: Have you performed at the Wharton Center before?
ML: No I haven’t. I have not actually been to Michigan before so I’m super excited. I’m doing my research online so that I can go around, pick up on all the history and all the arts and culture and night life and all that stuff, so I’m excited.
AF: Out of all the places you’ve performed, what’s your favorite city that you’ve been to?
ML: Well, I can say I was on a cruise ship at one point so I saw a lot of cities internationally that I loved and I went back to Barcelona and those things, but you know, it’s funny. It’s hard because I think every city is so different and there are things like I’m noticing Omaha is really receptive to this show and they’re really excited and they’re listening and they’re great folks down here. And other times I’ve performed in audiences that are just bouncing off the walls and raucous and dancing in the aisles and you know.
So every audience is different, but they all seem to kind of, for this particular show, they all seem to kind of get up on their feet at the end of it. It’s kind of unreal. It’s like this crazy, phenomenon that this show has created and every night people are just up and dancing in the aisles and singing and you know, it’s kind of the unreal job to do, to be able to bring this story to everybody every night and have them walk out every night humming the tunes and being so excited about it
AF: We are a university, so what piece of advice would you give to an aspiring theatre student?
ML: Well, I think nowadays with the advent of you know American Idol and that kind of stuff, I think you now theatrically speaking, a lot more people seem to be interested in getting into music theatre which is awesome. And Glee and all that kind of stuff.
It’s really sort of changing the face of music theatre and I would say there’s just a lot of hard work that’s involved in doing what we do, which is sort of implicit in any career, but I think the key to it all is that you have to love it enough to get through the rough times because I think that’s where people tend to fall off in this career. You have to just know within your heart of hearts that you love performing and that you love the arts and all that kind of stuff enough to dedicate your life to it. Even when you’re working another job and running out and doing auditions and it can be really hectic and hard on you sometimes, you just have to make sure that that love is deeply routed within you. And I think also you have to really get to know yourself cause I think the best thing for artists and for people who perform is life experience and I think if you are limited with your life experience sometimes that can limit you as an artist, too, and I think that getting the most out of life and experiencing life to it’s fullest really informs you as an artist and really sort of puts your eyes and ears and your senses and I think that’s kind of a key to being a really detailed, exciting artist.
AF: Anything else you want to tell us about the show?
ML: Personally, I think this is a show that connects to a lot of people, not only because of the music because I think the music is sort of spanned so many decades and I think that’s why there’s so many different age groups that come to this show cause these guys just made incredible music for so many decades so I think it’s connected to so many people, but I think what people kind of want out of Jersey Boys is kind of a surprise about the story behind all of this music. I think it’ s kind of cool. It’s a backstage sort of pass to the goings on of this group of four blue collar guys who rose to fame and just kind of fell apart. And I think it surprises people cause it gets you with the story just as much as the music and that’s, I think, why people keep coming back and people are feeling so connected to this and that’s a really really special, incredible thing.