by Kellie Abrahamson
Winner of four Tony Awards, a Grammy and countless others, Jersey Boys is something of a phenomenon. The show chronicles the lives of the original members of the Four Seasons, one of the most successful rock ‘n roll acts of the 60s.This story of four blue-collar guys who made good in the often fickle entertainment industry has struck a chord with audiences the world over and is sure to do the same right here in Jacksonville when the show comes to town this month.
We were lucky enough to speak with Michael Lomenda, who portrays the enigmatic Nick Massi in the touring production of the Broadway smash. Michael gave us a peek into the auditioning process, shared his favorite Jersey Boys moment and gave us some insight on playing the strong silent type.
EU Jacksonville: : Did you always want to pursue acting?
Michael Lomenda: Not always, I don’t think; I kind of fell into it. I’m from a really small town in a rural part of Alberta, Canada. The population was around 5,000 people so it was a bit of an unlikely situation that I got into acting. But I kind of fell into it with the help of this great art/drama teacher duo that came into town and took me under their wing. Early on I got these great opportunities to get into some one act play festivals and that kind of parlayed itself into music theatre, three years at Sheridan College and then I just happened into it…I graduated 10 years ago from Sheridan College, so I guess I’ve been an actor for 10 years now.
EU: So now that you’ve hit the big time with Jersey Boys, did you get the key to the city when you came home?
ML: [Laughs] It feels like it sometimes, I have to be honest. This is one of those shows that has really just 100% changed my life… It was 2008 when I got the call to join the Toronto Company and after that it’s just like it was my first Downtown show in Toronto and that was pretty exciting and now to join the tour it’s been kinda like this whirlwind, dream kind of experience for me so it’s been awesome.
EU: How familiar were you with the Four Seasons before auditioning?
ML: I guess familiar in the sense that once you sort of sit in a room and listen to all the songs in the show you kind of realize that they have underscored your growing up, in a sort of subconscious way. And of course now that I have done the show for as long as I have… everywhere you go you hear their music. So they’ve always been there but you’ve maybe not known specifically that it was them because they did this sort of evolving over the decades to try and make themselves pertinent to the public and trying to challenge themselves. Their music has really spanned this great sort of spectrum of feels and vibe. You really notice that in the show from their early stuff like ‘Sherry,’ ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like a Man’ which was early 60s, 1962, all the way up to ‘Who Loved You,’ which was [released] in the mid 70s and ‘December 1963 (Oh What a Night),’ which is a totally different vibe but it’s all still really great, fantastic, pertinent pop music so it’s kinda cool. And for me that’s what was really kinda cool. It’s like “Oh man this is a wicked show! And I know all this music but I didn’t know it.”
EU: What was the audition process like for Jersey Boys?
ML: Well I think it varies. For me it was short and sweet I guess you can say. I was unfortunately on the east coast of Canada, which was about a two hour flight away from the audition, so I had to fly back and forth a couple of times, which is not a big deal especially when you are auditioning for something like Jersey Boys. I mean it’s something that actors are always so excited about and it’s a show a lot of actors really want to do. But I know that Frankies and Bobs sometimes have a bit more of an involved process. Frankies goes to something called “Frankie Camp” and our Frankie in Toronto actually had to sit in a booth with the original Bob, the Bob Gaudio, and sing Frankie Valli tunes into a microphone and then Bob would coach him on it and try to find that Frankie sound, that classic signature Frankie sound that’s so recognizable… You know Bob and Frankie, Jersey Boys is really their baby and so they’re really involved in the audition process.
EU: For those who are unfamiliar, talk a little bit about your character Nick Massi.
ML: Nick Massi was the bassist of the Four Seasons so he played bass and he also sang bass, the bass parts… He was also kind of credited as the arranger of the group, meaning he would arrange a lot of the tunes and consequently he was credited for creating that interesting four-part harmony that these guys had. And then also early on I think Frankie credits him as one of his earliest vocal coaches, and you see a little of that in act one when the guys break into a church and they wheel out an organ and sing through a couple of tunes in a church with great acoustics. So he was credited early on as one of the arrangers of the group. But he himself was a bit of an odd duck apparently in the sense that he was kinda quiet, he didn’t wake up before noon, he was very precise and clean cut and was very specific about what he wore and his style. He had a real sense of importance of a good gentlemanly decorum I think. But he was also quite a ladies’ man and all that kinda stuff. The other guys said that he didn’t really say very much and nobody really knew the real reason why he left the group. He left the group quite early on in their success, shortly after they hit with ‘Sherry,’ ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like A Man,’ he decided to leave the group so that was sort of a strange thing. Nobody really knew why. That’s kind of the arc of Nick Massi’s progression throughout the show. Eventually, without giving too much away, he finds his own part.
EU: How do you prepare for a role like this? Because it’s based on a real person, do you have to be more respectful, how does that work?
ML: Yeah I mean I think whenever you take on a role, every actor sort of has their own individual process but for me I’m quite a visual person so I like to immerse myself in the genre and the feel and the time period, because I think it’s important to get a sense of what was going on at the time this stuff was happening on stage… Unfortunately Nick Massi passed away in 2000.The other guys are still living and are still around but I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Nick Massi himself. I did have the chance to meet Nick Massi Jr. in Miami, which was kind of an interesting situation because he’s referenced in the show, Nick Massi’s kids are actually referenced in the show and I actually talk about them and he saw the show. So that was a bit of an interesting opportunity to meet somebody who was that close to Nick. I think ultimately what you do is you take in as much information about the person and the time period that you can possibly do and then just throw it all away and hope it informs the way you speak the lines. Once you take that all in and make it part of the way you move and the way that you speak and your thought processes as an actor, then you kind of have to forget it all and just be present in the scene and hope that you’ve done your homework.
EU: What is the best part about playing Nick?
ML: There are a lot of cool things I like about playing Nick. One of them is, I think that Nick doesn’t say a lot in the show, but when he does speak he has these kind of epic realizations and really informative developments for himself that make the words that he does speak really important and really integral to him. So I guess it’s his economy of speech and his silence. And it’s a challenge for me as an actor because I don’t have a lot of stuff to work with in the sense that Frankie is the front man of the group and Tommy DeVito is a bit of a fire cracker and Bob is a boy genius, but Nick is really the quiet silent type. So the challenge is for me to get the audience to still be invested in Nick’s character despite the fact that he is surrounded by an incredible life story and three other guys who are kind of flashy and have these great sort of stories as well. It’s the challenge of making Nick’s story and Nick’s take on the experience pertinent to the audience each night that I think is really wicked.
EU: Do you have a favorite Jersey Boys moment?
ML: After we closed in Toronto, after around two years, we had a final performance that was kind of electric. Obviously it’s the end of a chapter up there and that was something else to experience for us, after you put two years of your life into a show and then we closed up there. The house was full, it was packed, and we did our final bow and left the stage and all of us guys are pretty emotional. You’re kind of saying goodbye to a family that you’ve spent a lot of time with for a really long time and then we kinda realized, we looked at each other after we’re taking our ties off and walking back into our dressing rooms and the audience was still cheering. So we looked at each other and we’re like “Should we go back out?” “I don’t know, should we go back out?”and we went back out and it was like the roof blew off the theater. It was one of those rare experiences where you stand there on a stage in front of a packed house of people and you realize that this show really, really affects people and really has created this incredible following of folks around the world who really love Jersey Boys, not only because of the music and the nostalgia of that time but because there’s an incredible story there that is pertinent to different people; a wide variety of people from young folks to your grandparents. And that’s what’s really cool about this particular show, when that kinda hits home for you as an actor you realize that you’re part of this incredible experience and I just feel really grateful and thankful that I get to somehow tell this story every night.