The Charmed Life

Paul Versluis

It’s spring 2011 and Patrick Lewallen as Lonny in “Rock of Ages” has the Music Hall audience in the palm of his hand. His seventh sense comic timing easily wins over the hometown crowd, breaking down what actors call the “fourth wall.” It’s a love fest between Lewallen, a Shawnee Mission South/University of Kansas graduate, and the ticketholders for the Broadway series with Theatre League who have filled the seats to watch Lewallen’s KC professional stage debut.

He’s wickedly funny, with a mischievous spirit that raises the rafters in the theatre on the corner of 13th street downtown.

The Pepsi Generation

Professional actor and Johnson County native Patrick Lewallen has an undeniably effervescent personality—sparky, spunky and as bubbly as the Pepsi he quaffs first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and the last thing he gulps before falling into bed at night. After taking the Pepsi Challenge at Kauffman Stadium before a Royals game when he was a youngster, he switched his allegiance from one soda brand to Pepsi.

“I fell in love with it, what can I say,” grins Lewallen, who stashes at least a dozen 24-packs of the soda in his apartment. “It’s been part of my identity since. Plus, I like what they’re doing with sustainability as a corporation, and their charitable giving back.”

So in other words, it’s not all about the pause that refreshes?

“Well, not entirely,” laughs Lewallen, tipping a can of the stuff to his lips.

Lewallen’s Pepsi-logoed wardrobe is legendary amongst his family and friends. He owns shirts, belt buckles and every bit of memorabilia imaginable. His Facebook page has a link to Pepsi’s Web site, and he and his “Rock of Ages” castmates wrote a catchy jingle and filmed a bouncy video reminiscent of the stick-in-your-brain Dr Pepper ditty actor David Naughton made famous in late 1970s commercials.

Lest you think Lewallen is just going through a stage in his life—a Pepsi period—consider his passionate reassurance that his obsession with the drink is not a passing fancy.

“Pepsi is a necessity in my life, like food and air,” says Lewallen. His regular consumption of the sugary, caffeinated soda pop begs the question from every mother reading this: Do you brush your teeth after drinking, Patrick?
“I brush a lot,” laughs Lewallen. “I have great teeth.”

As a member of the first national tour of the Broadway smash “Rock of Ages,” Lewallen’s juicy role as the rock/jukebox musical’s emcee/narrator fits the equity actor like a glove. The reaction to Lewallen’s Lonny is immediate and electric, and when he belts out familiar late 80s hard-rock anthems synonymous with the so-called “hair band” era, the crowd goes wild.

One of Lewallen’s high school teachers, Cathy Wood, is in the audience, happily soaking in every moment of her former pupil’s stellar performance. Wood taught drama at Shawnee Mission South, and assisted theatre director Mark Swezey (now artistic director at the White Theatre on the Jewish Community Center campus).

“The fame Patrick has achieved since his first professional role hasn’t changed him a bit,” she says, referring to Lewallen’s turn as James, the Apostle in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” “He takes absolutely nothing for granted, but his laid-back personality is an asset. It allows him to keep his career in perspective.”

Indeed, a year following his performance in the Kansas City run of “Rock of Ages,” Lewallen looks relaxed and refreshed, back in town on a holiday break. He lives in New York City now (“the city really fits my schedule”), attending auditions, working hard and loving life. When it comes to the sometimes-fickle world of acting, Lewallen has his thick head of hair on straight.

“You have to trust yourself as an actor,” says Lewallen. “You have to make yourself vulnerable, get out there. You have a two percent success rate, and you’ve gotta be strong and confident.”

Lewallen has had a good chunk of fortune since he started auditioning in NYC, landing the “Jesus Christ Superstar” role and then the enviable “Rock of Ages” tour. He’s levelheaded about his acting and singing chops, assessing his abilities with a measured dose of Midwestern sensibility and an inherent humble attitude.

“I believe I have talent, yes, but there are lots of actors out there who are insanely talented,” says Lewallen, pushing his hair from his face, his stunning eyes gazing out the window. “Sometimes it’s about being in the right place. When I go in and audition, I have to be memorable, in a good way.”

Darin Parker, an Olathe private voice coach and piano tuner, taught Lewallen through his high school years. The budding actor/singer’s determination to learn and grow was fierce, he says. And his warm personality was like money in the bank—a point-of-difference.

“Patrick was always eager to learn more,” says Parker. “It was evident from the beginning that he wanted to do something with acting and singing in his life…it wasn’t a passing fad or whim. What sets Patrick apart from a lot of other talented people, I think, is that he is just a great human being. You love to be around him.”

Lewallen credits local community theatre gigs at the Chestnut Fine Arts Center, the Barn Players and the Olathe Community Theatre Association as priceless opportunities to develop his craft and offer a framework to launch into the frenzied NYC lifestyle. He appeared in December 2011 at the White Theatre in “Beau Jest,” a role he relished as much as that of Lonny, the fictitious rock bar co-owner in “Rock of Ages.” He reunited with his high school theatre teacher, Swezey, who directed the show.

Lewallen considers Swezey his most important mentor. “He showed me the ropes,” says Lewallen.

Family and friends are the essence of Lewallen’s life, something he hopes will never change.

“I have such a great family, and I’m so close to my sister,” says Lewallen. “They know absolutely nothing about theatre, except coming to see me perform, and that’s a good thing. They’ve let me pursue my career, cheerleading me every step of the way.”

The Lewallen File

Patrick Lewallen keeps it real—family, friends, former teachers and drama and voice coaches attest to that. His personal style leans toward casual (he appeared post-Music Hall performance last spring at Davey’s Uptown Ramblers Club singing a Queen song, dressed in a Pepsi t-shirt and jeans). His musical tastes are defined by classic rock icons like Freddy Mercury of Queen and Prince (“I love men who can sing higher than women”) and on the flip side, Beethoven. Here’s Lewallen, unplugged.

Favorite flick: “Shawshank Redemption”
“After I saw it the first time, I immediately watched it again. It took over my soul.”

Favorite play: “Shear Madness”
“It relies on improv, involves the audience and the actors have a total blast. Comedy is more difficult than drama, I think. In comedy you have the opportunity to go over the top…and you take the chance that sometimes the audience laughs and sometimes they don’t.”

Favorite musical: “Jekyll and Hyde”
“I played Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…both sides of the fence. It was romantic, humorous, dark…loved the role.”

Favorite actor: Jim Carrey
“A lot of people think he’s sophomoric, but he has fun. I respect that.”

Professional sports: Royals, Chiefs, Jayhawks
"I’m a rabid fan.”

Personal motto: “Rejection means nothing. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder.”

There’s a rising star in NYC, and Patrick Lewallen is holding onto its fluttering tail. No doubt he’ll return to a stage in his hometown in the near future, captivating audiences, strutting his stuff, loving life and what he does.

And we’ll love him right back.

For more information on Patrick Lewallen, visit patricklewallen.com.

Categories: People, People & Places

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