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Rock of Ages - I'm Ready for the Wayback Machine, Mr. Peabody...So Pump Up the Volume!

July 20, 2010 - by Griffin Miller

All the program tells you is that his name is Lonny and that he’s played by Mitchell Jarvis. The moment he sets foot on the stage, however, you see the light. Lonny is the whole package: a comic maestro/narrator who is destined to guide the uninitiated through every plot twist and hit from the ’80s that Rock of Ages can dish out. And, like the show itself, he does it with the reckless energy of a runaway freight train.

Before you have a chance to fully take in the on-stage rock band, the deviously eclectic rock club backdrop (the Bourbon Room), and the miscellany of L.A. trappings that flank the main set, Lonny/Jarvis jettisons himself to the lip of the stage, where he grabs the audience with the charisma of a faith healer and replaces religion with the insight of rock raconteur. Within five minutes he owns everyone in the audience -- and nobody’s complaining.

He tells us, “We’re going back to a sexier time! THE REAGAN ERA!” and welcomes us to the Sunset Strip, circa mid-to-late ’80s. He flirts shamelessly with every woman on stage -- and several femmes de la audience. He ushers us into the convoluted love story between Drew and Sherrie (Constantine Maroulis -- yes, the American Idol hottie -- and Emily Padgett, a Legally Blonde the Musical alumnus) and pushes our retro pop-culture buttons with a mullet haircut and references to Riunite on ice.

“I kind of look at Lonny as the show’s lynchpin -- a guy people can relate to,” says Jarvis, who’s been playing the role along with nearly 50 percent of the current cast since the show debuted Off-Broadway at New World Stages in 2008.

“Lonny’s a no-holds-barred rule-breaker,” he continues, adding that the over-the-top physicality of the character has its challenges. “I’m still having fun, but at this point it’s become somewhat of a lesson in maintenance. I tell myself to listen to the other actors and be open to things evolving. After two years, I’m still finding new ways to deliver jokes.”

The ride began at the behest of a high school friend (Apple Valley High in Minnesota) who was working as a reader for the show when they were holding auditions for the Off-Broadway production. “Originally they were looking for heavy-set guys to play Lonny, but when they couldn’t find the right one, they started to look at different body types,” says Jarvis. “My friend suggested me and I essentially came in with my own shtick.”

Good shtick apparently, as he received an offer that same night. Still, his trajectory to a role he refers to as wildly theatrical and “faux misogynistic” wasn’t exactly straightforward. “I grew up in a conservative household where that sort of rock music was taboo,” he recalls, citing a social life filled with roller rinks during the years (the 3rd and 4th grades, in his case) identified with hard-core ’80s rock.

At the moment, however, Jarvis is looking to take his Rock of Ages experience to the next level. His tenure as Lonny will be interrupted in five or six months when he moves into the role of bad-boy rocker Stacee Jaxx (currently played by James Carpinello).

“It’s getting to be time to create something new,” he muses, adding, “It’s been an interesting ride to say least...one I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

Click here for "Rockin’ Reasons Why ROA Is a Must-See," as well as a complete list of RoA musical numbers & their artists, not included in the program.

Rock of Ages is playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (256 W. 47th St.). For reservations, call 212-307-4100 or click here.

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