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JERSEY BOY Michael Lomenda Talks Touring, Subway Compliments, and Playing the Off-Center Nick Massi

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JERSEY BOY Michael Lomenda has called Chicago his touring-home for just over a month, but the closest Starbucks to The Bank of America Theater, where the first national touring cast of Jersey Boys is currently playing its 9 week run, has rooted itself firmly in his routine. He also calls a brownstone with fellow cast members in Wrigleyville his place of residence, has mastered the el (and gotten plenty of compliments while doing so), and taken in the city's architectural feats on boat tours.

"This man on the subway says to me as he's getting off the train," Lomenda laughs on the walk from Starbucks to The Bank of America Theater where he's about to go on for the 2PM Matinee, "'best tie and shirt combination ever. You done good.'"

Lomenda plays off-kilter bassist, Nick Massi, in the current production of JERSEY BOYS, which, every year or so, seems to make its way back to Chicago for another extended run to showcase the lives and music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. He's no apprentice to this Tony Award Winning show, however - Lomenda played Massi in the Toronto production prior to joining the national tour seven months ago.

Also accompanying Lomenda in the national tour of JERSEY BOYS is Joseph Leo Bwarie and Nick Cosgrove as Frankie Valli, Preston Truman Boyd as Bob Gaudio, and John Gardiner as Tommy DeVito.

 

From Beneath the Streetlight to the Stage

"I grew up in a town of 5,000, surrounded by cows and oil fields, but there was a lot of opportunity in my tiny little town," he said. Theater, however, was originally, not his plan. His father, a former professional hockey player in Canada, took up carpentry and dove into construction. Lomenda, following in his father's edifice footsteps, originally dreamed of planning, creating skylines.

"Architecture was always the plan," he said, knowing the practical aspect of working in such a field. "I always figured I'd just do theater on the side."

But like so many others with the insatiable passion for theater, Lomenda changed tunes his senior year of high school, applied at Red Deer College's Acting Program, studied there for a year, and then auditioned for Sheridan College's highly-regarded Musical Theater program, in which he eventually graduated with honors.

Years later, with credits such as Corny Collins in HAIRSPRAY and Kenickie in GREASE spotlighted on his resume, Lomenda found his way into The Four Seasons, and has stuck with JERSEY BOYS, the show he credits as being "the best show on the road," one of the only to "make you feel like a rockstar every single night."

 

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The Genius of JERSEY BOYS

There are few shows capable of drawing the number of audience members that JERSEY BOYS does, and even fewer capable of securing extended run after extended run in some of the world's largest cities. In Chicago alone, an open-end production ran from 2007 until 2010, and has now come back, only two years later, for their current nine week run.

"The show hooks people; the music takes people to a different time, it brings nostalgia like few others do," Lomenda said, believing JERSEY BOYS' ability to transport the audience back to their youth, or give them a glimpse into the past of some of music's greatest legends, drives the demand for such long-running productions of the show.

"Everyone loves the underdog. That's who these guys were, just super talented, genius underdogs."

Lomenda sees JERSEY BOYS being around, not just in Chicago, but in the musical theater world, for years to come.

"In the future, Jersey Boys is going to be even more highly respected. The Four Seasons are already part of the United States' history - they're in the pop music canon, and now in the musical theater canon."

 

From Gaudio to Massi, Alberta to Chicago

Now in his third run with JERSEY BOYS, Lomenda has learned the ins-and-outs of adjusting to new companies, and letting the dynamic relationships between the Valli, Gaudio, Massi, and DeVito naturally develop on stage.

"There are four guys that create a vibe," he said. "Everyone picks up each other's colors and energy, and it becomes this new entity for each [company change]."

The vibe in this cast, seems to audiences and critics alike, to be something especially spectacular - the current touring production has been hailed by Chicago critics as potentially the best since the show's inception.

"It's really like a train: you have to jump on board and then get out of the way of it."

And though he proclaims his fellow Four Seasons are some of the greatest guys he's ever worked with, touring can be lonely, exhausting, filled with unrelenting ups-and-downs. But he sees taking to the road in JERSEY BOYS as the most pure way of getting to know the roles.

"I'm learning how to be on tour, and so were The Four Seasons - that's what the show's about. My life and being on tour is directly informing me on how to be Nick," he said. "You can bring your daily life to the stage and go from where you are; you can bring real life into the role, it's directly informative. And so great."

The most difficult part of Lomenda hasn't been readjusting to new casts, or traveling the world with the production, however:

"The whole shaving thing, I haven't learned to shave without cutting myself, yet for this show," he laughs, "I'm a five o'clock shadow guy."

For Lomenda, Massi wasn't always where it was at: he originally auditioned for the role of Bob Gaudio, the famed writer of The Four Seasons who penned perennial hits such as "Sherry," "Walk Like a Man," and "Big Girls Don't Cry."

"I kept looking online at previous casts, doing some research, and was thinking: I don't look like him [Gaudio] I look like him [Massi]!" He said, and, whether premonition or just artistic devotion, he prepared for both roles, putting Massi's material in his back pocket for the audition.

"Halfway through they stop me, and say, 'I think we want you to read for something else.'"

"Nick Massi?" He asked.

"Yes!"

And from there, he was cast as the off-center Massi in the original Toronto production alongside acclaimed Valli, Jeff Madden, and Broadway veteran Jeremy Kushnier.

"I really enjoy playing the 'off-center' character; I just prefer the other guy," Lomenda said, who one days aspires to play Sweeney Todd.

From Chicago, the touring cast of JERSEY BOYS heads to Tulsa and then to Calgary, Alberta - a mere two hours from Lomenda's home town. At this stop, his relatives who've yet to see him as Massi will get their first chance. But for Lomenda, there's an even bigger first:

"I saw some of my first shows on the stage we'll be performing on in Calgary, it's a full circle, a dream come true."

Not everyone, he knows, is fortunate enough to take the leap, throwing practical premonitions to the wind, and following their dreams.

"Take the leap if you love theater more than anything, take the leap. It's so rich if you give over fully to it, there are no halfers or returnsies in this business - if you don't..." He laughs, "There's no way to go other than full tilt with your life and job."

JERSEY BOYS is the winner of the 2006 Best Musical Tony Award®, the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album and the 2009 Olivier Award for Best New Musical. Directed by two-time Tony Award® winner Des McAnuff, JERSEY BOYS is written by Academy Award-winner Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe and choreography by Sergio Trujillo.

JERSEY BOYS continues to run through June 3rd at Chicago's Bank of America Theater. For tickets, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com or call the Box Office at (312) 977-1700.

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