Rocking Out to a Lifelong Dream

October 24, 2018

CHELMSFORD -- John-Michael Breen began performing at age 3, and by age 12 he knew that theater would be his lifelong passion.

Now 26, the Chelmsford native has just embarked on his first national tour with “Rock of Ages: 10th Anniversary Tour,” a musical production by New York-based Fifth Estate Entertainment.

The Boston leg of the tour opened Tuesday night at the Boch Center - Wang Theatre, and continues through Sunday. There is a show each night, along with Saturday and Sunday matinees.

“I grew up going to shows at the Wang and the Colonial and all these amazing venues in Boston,” Breen, now of Brooklyn, said in a Tuesday afternoon phone interview. “When I read the Wang was on our tour schedule, I just choked up immediately.”

“I’m taking each moment I can to just be really thankful,” he added.

Breen plays Lonny, narrator and manager of the Bourbon Room, a bar and music venue where much of the story takes place.

Breen said it’s “a tricky line” to walk both worlds, but he loves the dual nature of his character.

“It’s kind of like jump roping and hula hooping at the same time,” he said.

Breen’s portrayal of Lonny is like “a character straight out of a John Hughes film,” he said, a “total Looney Tune” completely immersed in the rock and nightlife culture of the 1980s.

The story is set in Los Angeles on the Sunset Strip, and the city is threatening to shut down the bar. It’s up to Lonny, bar owner Dennis (played by Ryan M. Hunt) and other characters to team up and figure out how to save the Bourbon. It also features the romance between big-city rocker Drew, played by Anthony Nuccio, and small-town girl and aspiring actress Sherrie, played by Andover-native Katie LaMark.

The jukebox musical journeys through songs and artists from across the 80s. The mash-up of Styx’s “Too Much Time on My Hands” and Starship’s “We Built This City” is one of Breen’s favorite numbers to perform.

“The musical and vocal arrangements of the songs are so much fun to perform and see,” he said. “We have people singing along with us and truly dancing in their seats every single night.”

Breen expects a large local contingent of family, friends and former classmates to attend his Boston shows, including at least two appearances by his parents, Paul and Catherine Breen, who also attended one of the production’s Portland, Maine, performances last week.

“My mom has been keeping a chart of everyone who’s coming each night,” Breen said.

He said his family has supported him and his aspirations “150 percent” since childhood. In addition to school choirs, musicals and plays, Breen performed in a number of community theater and professional productions in his formative years.

It was back-to-back productions with Actorsingers of Nashua and at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly when he was 12 that solidified his dream.

The 2010 Chelmsford High School graduate sang the praises of his alma mater and the “incredible” teachers he had.

“I feel I really had an outlet in high school to gain confidence and training in auditioning for schools,” Breen said.

He auditioned at 12 colleges around the country, ultimately deciding on Point Park University in Pittsburgh, where he completed his bachelor of fine arts in theatre arts in 2014.

He came came back to New England after college, becoming involved with summer productions by The Winnepesaukee Playhouse in New Hampshire. Breen said this was where he took on some of his most enjoyable and challenging roles, such as lead Benjamin Braddock in the dialogue-heavy “The Graduate.”

Breen moved to Brooklyn in the fall of 2015, and said he has found New York to be a great theater hub.

After Boston, “Rock of Ages” moves to Atlantic City next week, followed by West Palm Beach, Florida, the week after. It continues with a mix of weeklong and shorter engagements across the country through mid-June.

Visit bochcenter.org/buy/show-listing /rock-of-ages to purchase tickets for the Boston performances of “Rock of Ages.” For more information about the production and its national schedule, visit rockofagesmusicaltour.com . To stay up on Breen’s latest work, visit johnmichaelbreen.com .

Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.