Jersey Boys ‘Behind The Curtains’ Michael Lomenda For Bello Mag
A look behind the scenes of Jersey Boys, with one of the Jersey Boys Himself.
Michael Lomenda first started playing the role of Nick Massi in the 1st US national tour of the hit stage-musical Jersey Boys in 2006. Nearly a decade later, his journey as the jive-y Nick Massi will come full circle with the summer release of Clint Eastwood’s highly anticipated adaptation of the hit Broadway musical on June 20th. He took us behind the scenes and we talked about the ins and outs of one of this summer’s most awaited motion pictures, working with “Mr. Eastwood” and the moment he almost gave up on the film that is sure to propel his career to levels unknown to the music-loving’ Canadian.
From A to B.
I was on tour with the First National tour of Jersey Boys. We were in San Francisco at the beautiful Curran Theatre. Mr. E came to see the show. [Clint Eastwood] I couldn’t believe it at first. We met very briefly after the show – it was about a 10 second actual introduction amidst photos and all that – and then a few weeks later I was on my way to New York after being asked to audition.
I was totally caught off guard because I’m a Canuck with basically NO experience in film or T.V. (I’ve done a S.O.C. docudrama and a couple non-union commercials) and so didn’t expect to be even remotely in the mix.
A couple weeks later I flew down to NYC and auditioned for Mr. Eastwood’s Casting Director. I flew in that morning to New York from Toronto and it was raining. I left a couple hours early in my suit, armed with my umbrella, for the audition which was way south of where I was staying with friends who’d advised me to get out at Columbus circle and cab from there. I did, and when I got out of the subway at Columbus, it was pouring sheets of rain, the city was stopped dead in the downpour, and I ran around like a maniac for 45 minutes trying to hail a cab. I gave up and called Uber. 140 dollars later I arrived looking drowned and 30 minutes late. At one point in the car, I nearly got out and cut my losses, but I had already spent $800 on a flight down.
The audition was short. A couple weeks later I got the call and a few weeks after that I was flying down to LA for a costume fitting, trying to keep the stupid grin off my face.
It was a rare and incredible experience. Witnessing someone with his breath of experience working at the level he is, surrounded by a family of people who work as his crew that almost don’t have to speak words to understand each other: it’s masterful. Everyone was so proud, happy and excited to come to work. It is, in my humble opinion, the best possible environment to work in as an actor. I think that is engineered because Mr. Eastwood is an actor first. He knows that a generous, collaborative, fun, focused, trusting, director is the best kind. I just tried to learn and soak as much in as I could; never knowing if I’ll ever get the opportunity to be part of something like this again.
I would say before getting involved with Jersey Boys, I’d never done a show where my off-stage life, so closely mimicked what I went through each night on stage. For the year and a half I was on the road with the First National Tour of Jersey Boys, I got to learn first-hand what it was to live out of suitcases and in hotel rooms, be away from family and friends, feel like a rock-star each night. Those guys were doing shorter stints than we were, so I imagine there were times when they didn’t even know what city they were in. It was wild. Being part of a hit show like Jersey Boys makes you feel like a superhero – the fans of the show are amazing – this show really gets all kinds of people on a deeply cellular level – Frankie and the Four Seasons are part of the collective classic American songbook – their music has underscored people’s lives for decades. If I can be a tiny drop in that well of historical awesomeness, I’m a lucky man.
Lights, Camera, Stories.
It was a blast. Everyone showed up to work excited and ready each day. Mr. Eastwood was always in the mix. There are shots in the finished movie where I can say he is literally six inches to my left, just out of frame, watching. There was a time where he spent the scene hiding under a giant grand piano to be out of sight. The man is in his 80s and he’s still spry and very much on his feet and in the mix. He’s a little kid really with a wicked sense of humor. I enjoyed watching him between takes trying to practice the Frankie Valli signature falsetto sound. Also, Frankie himself was on set quite a bit with his son. It was wild to be able to ask him questions between takes and, in some cases, have him in the audience as we performed. So many memorable days – I spent mine and my character’s birthday shooting my big scene in the film – the guys got me a cake and sang Happy Birthday – hard to beat that one.
Stage door love.
There are so many… predictable, but a huge fan of Sondheim, particularly Sweeney, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park, and Company… I love Adam Guettel and Jason Robert Brown. One of my first trips to New York, I saw Urinetown and was so excited that this kind of crazy musical existed. RENT got me hooked on the music theatre world; I had the tapes. Tommy, as directed by Des McAnuff, was one of the first musicals I saw. Cabaret, Carousel, Kurt Weill, Chicago, Producers, Kander and Ebb, West Side Story, so many… I also, can’t wait to seeing Neil Patrick Harris Hedwig!
Going into the stage play we did tons of research. From time period to relevance of money – it’s important when you’re talking about 10 grand in 1963 that you know what that’s like today for example – to cars to dialect to history. We had a great dramaturgical team who assembled a package with basically everything. I personally researched as much as I could about Nick, finding out we share the same birthday, which was wild, and immersed myself in the Four Seasons music and their influences as much as possible. I had to learn how to play bass, how to smoke, and how to sing. It’s the rangiest role I’ve had in a while.
As for prep for the film – I mostly just hoped the script was similar, [laughs]. I was worried since I’d done the show as long as I had that it would be difficult to change a whole bunch of dialogue if the script was totally different – but it wasn’t, thankfully. The time between when I got the call and when we started shooting was quite brief, so I just had to try to draw confidence from the past 4 years of my Jersey Boys experience and wholeheartedly trust the guidance of Mr. Eastwood and his team. I reviewed some historical notes, watched some movies again that initially inspired me, and revisited some dialect stuff. But essentially, it was mostly about trying to convince myself I was as ready as I could be at that point, and that I was up for the challenge.
I love the time when this story takes place. I grew up on the Wonder Years – Winne was my first T.V. girlfriend; Mad Men is one of my favorite shows on T.V. The Motown Museum in Detroit is one of my favorite museums in the world. I think the 50’s and 60’s is an incredibly historically dense couple of decades for the world and the US particularly. So much changed, some say a loss of innocence. Some say the redefining of a nation. However you define it, it was an incredibly monumental couple of decades, and I think that’s why we see so many shows taking us back to those exciting and formative times.