Back from national tour, actor is pressed into action

After 11 months on the first national tour of the Broadway hit musical “Rock of Ages,” Patrick Lewallen returned home in Overland Park to relax and spend the holidays with his family.

Then came a call from Mark Swezey, director of theater at the Jewish Community Center, who was Lewallen’s drama teacher at Shawnee Mission South High School. Swezey told him he was casting “Beau Jest,” a romantic comedy, and needed a leading man. How about it?

“Of course, I couldn’t say no,” Lewallen said. “I’d never pass up an opportunity to work with Mark; he’s my mentor and close friend. I was a soccer player in high school when he took me under his wing and led me into theater.”

So, at 7:30 p.m. today, “Beau Jest” will open in the White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center with Lewallen in a leading role.

“It’s my first non-musical show in seven years,” Lewallen said. “The story is hilarious. It revolves around a loving, comedic family and their dysfunctional relationships, something every family can relate to. Actually, I’m excited to find a way to stay in town for a few months and work on a great show with a good cast and creative team.”

“Not only do I get to work with Mark again, but also with my first drama teacher at South, Cathy Wood, who has a leading role in the show. It’s a blast from the past,” he said with a laugh. “The entire cast is solid, very professional.”

“We chose this play because it’s a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy,” Swezey said. “It’s very touching and has a lot to say about nuclear families of any ethnic persuasion.”

“Beau Jest’’ focuses on Sarah Goldman, “a nice Jewish girl” whose parents want her to marry “a nice Jewish boy.” But Sarah is in love with a Protestant. To fool her family, she hires a young man (Lewallen) from an escort service who pretends to be a Jewish doctor she’s been dating.

Lewallen, 26, has enjoyed show business since his graduation from Shawnee Mission South and then the University of Kansas, in 2008. After performing in several area community theaters, he headed for New York City, auditioned for two national tours and was selected for both. He first toured with “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 2009-10, portraying the Apostle James, and was the understudy for King Herod and Pontius Pilate. Then in 2010-11 came the tour with “Rock of Ages,” a rock/jukebox musical, as Lonny, the Narrator.

“Many actors go to New York City where they have hundreds of auditions and don’t even get a call back,” Swezey said. “Patrick goes to two auditions and lands roles at both.”

“We did 316 shows during the 11 months on tour. ‘Rock of Ages’ is a hard show, a lot of rock music. We usually had our days free, except on weekends, so we could relax a little. At one stop we did three shows — matinee, evening and midnight — and a matinee the next afternoon. That was ‘a day,’ ” he said.

At the conclusion of the tour, he landed a part in the movie version of “Rock of Ages” starring Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Julianne Hough that will be released this summer. Lewallen is a featured dancer in the Juke Box Hero scene in the movie. “Ordinarily, I’m a singer first and a dancer second,” he said.

“The movie is set on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip but was shot in Miami. It was a lot of fun. I had a great time in Miami,” Lewallen said. “Shooting started at 3 p.m. in the afternoon and ended up at 5 a.m. Fortunately, I’m kind of a night owl so that was fine for me.”

“The cast was great, very congenial. It’s a rock show with a fun atmosphere, so everyone’s always in a good mood. No temper tantrums.”

Lewallen is pleased with the present stage of his career. “I’d say it’s been everything I’d hoped for. I’ll return to New York City in a month or so for more auditions,” he said. “I’ve done pretty well getting jobs. I enjoy auditions. You see what everyone brings to the table, size up your competition. Auditions are a learning process.”