From Stettler to Jersey is a long journey to travel, but one that Stettler native Michael Lomenda has achieved creatively. Graduating from William E. Hay Composite High School in 1997, Lomenda enrolled in Red Deer College with aspirations of becoming an architect, taking some arts classes as a sideline. Instead, he built a career in the arts.
Lomenda, 32, stars in Jersey Boys — the highly acclaimed, award-winning musical production that showcases the music and life story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Following a sold-out two-year engagement in Toronto, the Jersey Boys are touring the U.S. and Canada with the western leg of the tour including Calgary and Edmonton.
For Lomenda, bringing the show to Alberta is a homecoming.
“It’s exciting to be coming home,” he said. “I am proud of the show and I think it’s a show Albertans would like. I saw my first musical theatre on the stages of the Jubilee auditoriums in Calgary and Edmonton when I was 12 or 13 years old. Now, I am performing on those very same stages. For me, it’s full circle. It’s been an amazing dream come true for me.”
In Calgary, the Jersey Boys cast received a “whitehat” welcome from Mayor Naheed Nenshi and were invited to sing O Canada to open the Calgary Stampede’s centennial edition.
Born and raised in Stettler, Lomenda was the first of two sons born to Mark and Janice Lomenda.
After a hockey career in the WHA, his father made the move to Stettler for an oilfield job with Gulf Canada, while his mother operated her own hair-dressing business in Stettler for 10 years.
“I am so proud to be from Stettler,” Lomenda said. “It has shaped me into the man and artist I am today.
“Many people think small towns don’t appreciate the arts, but the reverse is true in Stettler. Stettler realizes their value and has many opportunities for youth — it is a very supportive community. I feel so blessed to have grown up in Stettler, with great parents and a community that cares.”
Stettler is proud of Lomenda’s success in the entertainment world and earlier this year honoured him with the Clearview Award of Merit, which recognizes national and international achievements.
“I was thrilled to receive the award, and to be a co-recipient with Bridie Ford, it couldn’t get any better,” Lomenda said.
The Lomenda family was gifted a piano from family friend Blaine Paulsen, who still lives in Stettler, and from a young age Michael took classical piano lessons in Lacombe. After a few years, his father decided to join him in taking lessons and they would drive to Lacombe each week.
“That was a very special time,” Lomenda recalled.
Lomenda didn’t become interested in acting until his high school years. In the high school production of “Scrooge,” he played the piano as an accompanist.
Lomenda credits two of his Stettler teachers, Darrell Dobson and Rose Pearson, for being the mentors that most influenced him. He also drew inspiration from teachers Eric Rahn and Grace Fix, and said every teacher he had helped him develop a strong work ethic, which has aided his career.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for them,” Lomenda said of his teachers. “The Stettler school system is amazing.”
Dobson and Pearson later married and moved to Ontario.
Lomenda was touched to have them in the audience at one of his Jersey Boys performances in Toronto.
Lomenda is appreciative of the support from his parents and clearly proud of the achievements in the medical field of his brother, Ryan, who is six years younger and now lives in Montreal.
“I have been so lucky to have had such wonderful, loving parents,” he said.
“They travelled lots when they were young and encouraged me to do the same and do anything I set my mind to.”
Lomenda is modest about his success. He has an impressive list of credits to his name in theatre, film and television and voice-overs, but landing a role in Jersey Boys is the highlight of his career and no easy feat.
Jersey Boys, recipient of Grammy and Tony Awards, is rated one of the best musical productions in North America. Time Magazine proclaims, “It will run for centuries!”
It’s not surprising that many actors desired being cast in the popular musical, and the competition for the roles was intense.
“I was at the right place at the right time — the stars aligned,” Lomenda said on being cast as Nick Massi in the first national tour of Jersey Boys from the U.S.
Perhaps the most important star in the equation was Lomenda himself.
The multi-talented, hardworking Albertan, with striking good looks, confesses to being a workaholic, constantly trying to evolve and grow and hone his skills.
“The entertainers with staying power are the really hard workers,” he said.
The national tour did a three-month stop in Toronto before deciding to make the show permanent in Toronto, going with an all-Canadian cast, in which Lomenda retained the role of Massi.
Jersey Boys tells the story of how Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, four blue-collar kids from Newark, N.J., became one of the greatest successes in pop music history. The show features more than 30 of the group’s hits that have stood the test of time and have the audience singing along and dancing in the aisles.
“It’s an incredible story, which many people will be surprised by,” Lomenda said. “It has moments that range from exciting, moving and dark to hilarious.”
Lomenda noted Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons came from an era when the media didn’t delve into the personal lives of entertainers, but rather focused only on their music, so few people know what happened in their lives behind the scenes.
Lomenda applauds his fellow cast members.
“I’m constantly amazed how consistent their performances are,” he said.
Reviews of the show have been positive. Some say they leave the theatre wanting to see it again, while others have said they can’t get the songs out of their head.
Lomenda had to laugh when telling of leaving the theatre after a show and seeing two teenage boys in their pickup truck in the parking lot singing, “Sherry, Baby” at the top of their lungs.
The Calgary tour stop, which wrapped up Sunday, has been an enjoyable one for Lomenda. He stayed with his parents, who now live in Calgary. His brother visited from Montreal, the first time the family has been all together in a long time.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “With no hotel rooms, it didn’t feel like being on tour. And with home-cooked meals — it just felt like being home.”
Lomenda, who still has strong Stettler ties, said he appreciated the support from the community. Residents came by the bus loads to see him perform in Calgary.
“Stettler has been so supportive,” he said. “It was cool to see high school friends and reconnect.”
For those who missed the Calgary performances, Jersey Boys is set for an Edmonton stage from Aug. 15 through Sept. 2.
The amicable Lomenda said he wants to meet the folks coming from Stettler to say hello — advising them to meet him at the stage door after the show.
The road to success for Lomenda, however, was not paved in gold. He experienced lean years along the way and had to learn to accept rejection. He had to miss family events and give up a lot to pursue his career.
“I was working 60 hours a week, starting at a morning coffee shop and finishing at Swiss Chalet and barely paying the rent,” Lomenda said.
Some of places he could afford to rent were less than desirable.
“At night, you could hear the rats scratching in the walls and I had to get up and bang some pots and pans to scare them off so I could get some sleep,” he said. “During the hard times, I drew on strength and conviction and knowing I had people in my corner and the backing of my community at Stettler.
“I’ve always been a dreamer. I never knew exactly what I would do, but I knew it would be something out of the ordinary.”
As a child, though, he didn’t necessarily see himself bound for stages of major North American cities.
“I am my own commodity,” he said. “I constantly have to sell myself. It can be daunting at times to balance career and personal life. My career doesn’t define who I am. It is important to experience things and participate in life — that is what takes you through the tough times.”
Lomenda has performed in 1,000 Jersey Boys shows, eight shows a week, with only one day off each week. Mondays are blank. Some might find that schedule mundane, but not Lomenda.
“I challenge anyone to be bored,” he said. “It is fun. The scenes are well-written, live audiences are electric, there is a tangible force of excited energy from the audience, (and) you are breathing the same air. It is exciting.
“It has enriched my life by choosing the arts — it’s the best choice I could have made. The rewards have been unbelievable.”
Lomenda believes his success came at the “exact right time,” he said.
“If it had come too soon, too quick — it may have been harder to handle and I might not have appreciated it as much.”
Lomenda lists his three career goals as — work as much as possible, always do his best and to be constantly learning. He hopes his contract with Jersey Boys will be renewed, but down the road he can see himself moving to New York for the challenges and opportunities Broadway has to offer.
Lomenda is a true inspiration for many, but especially young people, as he is living proof that coming from a small town is in no way a disadvantage. Dream big and work hard, and the opportunities are endless.
Lomenda did just that.