BWW Interview: John-Michael Breen is Lonny in ROCK OF AGES 10th Anniversary Tour
Let's get ready to rock, New Orleans! Opening at the Saenger Theatre TONIGHT is, according to cast member John-Michael Breen, the "best face-melting jukebox musical you'll ever see" that also has a lot of heart. If you're crazy about the 80s, or even if you're not, this show is one to see.
ROCK OF AGES tells the story of Drew and Sherrie, two young artists who make their way to Los Angeles to follow their dreams, but the venue where they both find themselves working is in trouble due to some stick in the mud suits trying to clean up Sunset Strip.
I had the chance to chat with John-Michael Breen who plays Lonny, best friend of Dennis Dupree who owns The Bourbon Room and also the narrator of the show. Read below to learn more about John-Michael, ROCK OF AGES, and why you absolutely should not miss this experience!
To get us started, can you tell me a little about yourself and how you started working in the theatre?
Sure! I started doing community theatre when I was about six. I think I maybe even started in arts as early as kindergarten, but I started doing at least one or two shows outside of school every year. And then, once I got to middle school... I grew up in Massachusetts right next to Lowell, and the arts education in public schools in Massachusetts is pretty phenomenal. I'm really thankful for that. My teachers, my parents, my family encouraged me to pursue professional opportunities. When I was about 12, I was in my first professional production at Northshore Music Theater in Massachusetts. That was a production of NINE. And then that led to other professional shows when I was around that age, but when I got to high school I wanted to focus on the drama program and doing shows there. I would still do community and some new theatre shows outside of school with some new theatre organizations, but like I said, the faculty at my high school in my hometown definitely encouraged us to do shows outside or inside of school and then in turn encouraged me to pursue higher education, which I did, I went to Point Park [University] in Pittsbugh. I got my BFA there in 2014.
That's awesome! So this has been a lifelong journey for you, which is really neat.
It has been, for sure.
Is this the first national tour that you've been on?
This is my first national tour. I've worked pretty frequently for the past few years in regional theatres, mainly across the eastern U.S. Not too many jobs out west. So, yeah, I'm so thrilled that I'm in ROCK OF AGES and it's my first tour.
How's tour life been treating you so far? What are some things you love about it and some of the challenges you face?
The schedule can be intense, but it's also kind of thrilling. I love travelling so getting to see new venues and new towns and work with so many new faces every day... it definitely takes adjusting to, but once you're in that mindset it's great, and our Production Company takes such good care of us and makes sure we've got everything we need and that we're set up for success. It can be hard at times just being away from home or not necessarily having all of the resources you're used to, but life on the road is really fun and adventurous. We've been able to play some beautiful theatres.
This tour that you're currently on is ROCK OF AGES. Can you give me a rundown of what the story is about?
Sure. I like to say that ROCK OF AGES is the best face-melting jukebox musical you'll ever see. Although it is a jukebox musical at heart, it was able to pull music from the entire 80s decade, so it really tailors its songs to specific characters and situations that I think works far better than most jukebox musicals you'll see. It mainly concerns Drew and Sherrie who are two young kids who come to L.A. in the 1980s to the Sunset Strip to sort of find their passions and follow their dreams. Drew's a musician and singer-songwriter, and Sherrie is an actress, and they both end up working for The Bourbon Room which is more or less modeled after the Whiskey a Go Go, which is a super famous music venue on The Strip. The Bourbon Room is owned by Dennis Dupree who is played by Ryan M. Hunt, and I play his best friend Lonny who is also the narrator of the show. Very shortly after Drew and Sherrie arrive, a father and son duo from Germany, Hertz and Franz, arrive to the mayor's office and they pretty much want to clean The Strip and rid it of its rock and roll elements... the sex and the drugs and the music... and the kind of want to clean up the streets, so The Bourbon Room is in jeopardy. So it's the story of Drew and Sherrie and how they meet and the saving of The Bourbon Room that kind of catapults the story into motion.
So your character, you said, is the narrator of the story. What is that dynamic like of being a character in the show, but also getting to interact with the audience and take them along with you?
It's so much fun! It's what I look forward to every single night. He's definitely the narrator. He's also more or less the hype man of getting the crowd ready, getting them screaming and ready to rock out to the music and laugh at all the great jokes and punchlines and dialogue. But then, right, I have opportunities to kind of take a step back and step into the story and be a character. That was a really fun part of rehearsals to work on that dynamic... How are they the same? How are they different? And kind of explore all of those areas.
The show is set in the 1980s and we'll hear a lot of good 80s rock music. There's so many genres and time periods of music out there, but I feel like people really just love the 80s. What do you think it is about 80s music that people love so much?
Absolutely, I know! We talk about this a lot with fans of the show and with each other, and even if it's not 80s rock... it could be 80s pop or 80s metal or whatever... but, just the music that came out of that period is so special, and I think it was that it was experimental in emotion which sounds weird, but those artists and those musicians and those songs lay everything out on the line. You listen to Journey or you listen to Pat Benatar... those drums... it's just everything. It's literally life or death and it translates really well to the stage. I think that's what people connect with is just the drama and the theatrics and how larger than life it all is.
Definitely an amazing era clothes-wise, music-wise... it's just great!
Everything was just big and loud and adventurous and awesome.
So talk to me about these costumes you guys get to wear. How fun are those?
They're fantastic! We have a wonderful costume designer, Cynthia Nordstrom, who pulled like straight up vintage to rock on these stages. They move well, they fit well, they're super specific to the time period. There are some fun surprises and designs and reveals in there for the fans of the show.
With the music, you guys are so saturated with 80s music because you're performing it every night. What do you listen to when you're on the road? Do you still find yourself wanting to listen to 80s, or do you kind of need a break from it and listen to other things?
I love listening to music. My Spotify Premium is like probably my favorite app. And yeah, there are some days when we're on the road that I definitely have been listening to artists in the show... I'll go through their catalogue like all of Poison's records or all of Journey's records. But this was... 2018 specifically was such a weird and interesting year for music, which a lot of people have been writing about now... Gosh, I played a lot of Cardi B. Her debut album was on repeat. The 1975 album I think is incredible. Gosh, what else? You know how Spotify will like catalog everything you've listened to and be like these are your top artists you've listened to? Mine is always so whack because I really do have an eclectic taste. When I was auditioning for ROCK OF AGES, I was listening to it non-stop to get familiar with it so it landed in like... it was like in your top three artists is the ROCK OF AGES soundtrack, and I was like of course. I love going to Pitchfork or Rolling Stone and reading about who is releasing music and sort of challenging myself to listen to different genres or artists that I don't know. I kind of do a little bit of everything.
Do you have a favorite scene in the show or a favorite part of the show that you're excited for audiences to see?
The opening is such a fun part to do to sort of start the show off with a bang. It's a medley of Cum On Feel the Noize, Just Like Paradise, and Nothin' But a Good Time. People, from the first drum beats, you see people rocking in their seats and it's always so much fun. And then, later in the show we do Every Rose Has Its Thorn by Poison, and usually people will flare up lighters or put their cell phone flashlights on just for that song and they're all singing the words with us so that's really special, too.
This is the 10th Anniversary Tour for ROCK OF AGES. Is there anything different or special that has been done for this production that maybe wasn't done in previous productions of it?
It's a different design overall than what you could say the "branded" version is, so it does look a little different. We've got a different set that is actually great for touring. It's much more of like a stripped back concert feel, but then there are a lot of fun elements that sort of pop up out of the set, and different lighting design and costume design, etc. But, the heart of the show is definitely still intact.
And, to wrap us up, give me the elevator pitch. Why should audiences come see ROCK OF AGES?
I think it's kind of a scary time... not a scary time, but it's a hard time politically right now in our country, and I think there are definitely some shows that will speak to that and I'm all for that. But, ROCK OF AGES truly is nothing but a good time and we just want to make you laugh and listen to some great music. I think that nostalgia and that attitude of the 80s brings a lot of people back to a better time, so if nothing else, that's all we want to do and just have you leaving with the biggest smile on your face.
ROCK OF AGES opens tonight at the Saenger Theatre. Visit www.saengernola.com for tickets and more information. We'll see you there!