He stars as one of the Jersey Boys in the hit Toronto musical.
But Michael Lomenda says he’ll always be a Stettler boy at heart.
For the past year, the 30-year-old actor, who was born and raised in Stettler, has been performing to full houses at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. He portrays Nick Massi in the 2006 Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys, about the rise of the 1960s pop group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
Massi was the group’s bassist who quit the Four Seasons in 1965, for reasons that are largely unexplained.
But Lomenda thinks he understands why Massi exited just as the group was riding its biggest wave of popularity with three No. 1 singles, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Sherry and Walk Like a Man.
“I think he just wanted to go home. And that resonates with me,” says Lomenda, who still feels strong ties to the hometown he left in 1997 to attend Red Deer College, then Sheridan College in Ontario.
Lomenda believes that coming from a supportive community of 5,000 people has helped him throughout his theatrical career.
“There’s a certain level of — I don’t know if traditionalism is the right word — but a real sense of family that comes from growing up in a small town. You have a different perspective on things than people who live in the city because it’s a totally different upbringing.”
The most tangible example of community support happened soon after Lomenda began studying music at the age of five or six — a family friend actually gifted him a piano.
“Something like that is so integral to my career,” he says. “It’s amazing that someone would do that.”
Lomenda notes this same family friend, Blaine Paulson, was among a loyal contingent of Stettler folks who flew to Toronto to catch his star-making performance in Jersey Boys — for which the Central Albertan received a 2009 Dora Mavor Moore Award nomination.
“You feel a strong sense of community behind you, and I bring all that support and love with me every time I step on stage,” says Lomenda.
The actor grew up playing sports, encouraged by his father who worked in the oilfield and once played WHA hockey. While Lomenda excelled in volleyball and basketball, he said he never took to hockey.
But he did develop a keen interest in theatre and art when two enthusiastic new teachers arrived at his Stettler school.
“Mr. Dobson was drama and Ms. Pearson was the art teacher,” recalls Lomenda, who spent his high school years participating in provincial one-act play festivals and acting in local productions.
“All through high school, I’d wanted to be an architect. But at the last minute, I had to do some course shuffling because I realized I didn’t want to only do theatre on the side. I wanted it to be my focus,” he says.
With the support of his parents — including his hairstylist mom, whom Lomenda credits for his creative streak — he enrolled in theatre studies at Red Deer College. A decade later, he still considers the RDC Arts Centre stage the best he’s ever worked on; “It’s such a great setup, with its fly system . . . it’s second to none.”
Local audiences might remember his portrayals of the young Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and Theseus, the king of Athens, in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.
While Lomenda learned a lot from the local theatre studies program, he never finished his last year at RDC. He followed the example of some classmates in auditioning for Sheridan College’s nationally recognized musical theatre program — and was accepted on the spot.
While most would conclude he wowed the instructors, Lomenda believes he simply stood out by having a “different vibe.” He said he was a small-town Western kid, and a reasonably talented male in a female-saturated field. “There’s so many fewer guys (in musical theatre), so I had that going for me.”
He remembers excitedly calling his mom after the audition to tell her he’d be moving to Ontario. “I told her ‘I’ve got to go.’ She said, ‘Are you sure? I don’t know . . . we’ll talk about it.’
“I said, ‘I don’t even think we can talk about this.’ ”
After graduating from the three-year Sheridan program, Lomenda went on to entertain for nine months on the Queen Mary II cruise ship and to act in productions across Canada, including Miss Saigon, Forever Plaid, Cabaret and Grease, for Stage West, Theatre New Brunswick and regional Ontario companies.
Jersey Boys is his big break.
Lomenda, who performs eight vocally demanding shows each week in a run that’s slated to go into January, recently had two other old friends in the audience — his former teachers Mr. Dobson and Ms. Pearson. It turns out the two are now married to each other and living a three-hour drive north of Toronto.
How’s that for support?
Lomenda remembers to thank his “Alberta family” in the Jersey Boys program, adding “This one’s for you, dad.”
More information on Jersey Boys is available from the website www.jerseyboystoronto.com
Tickets can be ordered by calling 1-866-950-7469.