Hometown: Apple Valley, Minnesota
Currently: Rocking it out and camping it up on Broadway as lovable be-mulleted loser Lonny, the narrator of the 1980s hair band musical Rock of Ages.
The Jarvis Family: It’s no surprise that Mitchell Jarvis is currently wailing on Broadway. His parents met while touring the country in the contemporary Christian singing group the Challengers, a family affair they continued once their son and two daughters were born. “My sisters and I would come up onstage and do a few numbers with them as the Jarvis Family Singers,” says Mitchell, the mellow baby of the family. “My big number was ‘Jesus Put the Song in My Heart.'” The clan kept the act together until Jarvis was eight, touring during school vacations in a blue 1979 Dodge Conversion van with their dog, Tippy. “We’d drive around the country, headlining at churches. It took me a while to figure out that wasn’t how most kids spent their summers.”
Jock of Ages: Despite his touring background and involvement school choirs, Jarvis didn’t take singing or theater seriously. “I was always an athlete—basketball, baseball, golf.” It wasn’t until his junior year of high school, when a broken leg sidelined him, that Jarvis began to ponder other avenues. “I finally realized, ‘I’m 5’8”, white and live in Minnesota; there’s no future for me in the basketball world.’” So when word got around that his high school needed tenors for Jesus Christ Superstar, the trained vocalist tried his luck, landing the role of Judas. “Climbing over the scaffolding, screaming rock vocals? That was that. I never really looked back,” he recalls. Post-graduation, Jarvis took a year off to research performing as a profession. “I knew nothing about it. Then I went to see the rock opera Romeo and Juliet with Patrick Wilson, and looked at his bio. I saw [he was trained at] Carnegie-Mellon, so I figured I’d just go there.” Jarvis auditioned and made it in.
If I Were A Rich Man: Drama degree in hand, Jarvis moved to New York in 2002 to launch his career, hitting the city during a major downturn: “It was this incredibly hot, post-9/11 summer and there weren’t a lot of jobs.” He filled the void with regional gigs, including Casper: The Musical with Chita Rivera, and a stint in West Side Story in Basel, Switzerland, but life as a struggling actor was the reality. “I’ve gone through stretches where I was playing my guitar on subway platforms just to eat. I even stole a sandwich once from a grocery store, just because I was so hungry. My friends calls it my ‘Jean Valjean’ moment,” he says. But in 2005, a big break came. Then a waiter at the popular theater district restaurant Angus McIndoe, Jarvis ended up serving at the Fiddler on the Roof Tony Award party, hitting it off with musical director Kevin Stites. Three months later, he was part of the cast. “I closed out the show as Yakov, working with Harvey Fierstein, Rosie O’Donnell and Andrea Martin. So that didn’t suck!”
Laughing to the Top: Following his Broadway debut, Jarvis honed his formidable comedic chops with the sketch group Honorable Mention and the corporate comedy musical The Water Coolers, gigs that made him the perfect candidate for a role a friend tipped him off about: Lonny, the drunken loser narrator in a new musical called Rock of Ages. The producers had spent months trying to cast the part, to no avail. But once they saw Jarvis, he was on his way to New World Stages, heading up the all-singing, all-stripping, all-drinking off-Broadway incarnation of a show about 80s lovers on the Sunset Strip. “There were some crazy, crazy nights,” Jarvis recalls of the show’s initial, occasionally booze-soaked run. “People would come up onstage—there were even drunken brawls in the audience. But we learned how to play this show and find funny ways to deal with any situation.”
Rockin’ Broadway: “The experience overall has been harmonious,” Jarvis says of his show, which survived a whirlwind three-week rehearsal process and several cast changes before transferring to Broadway in late March. Now running to audience and surprise! critical acclaim at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, ROA has benefitted from Rialto upgrades including a better sound system and new comedic finessing. “Off-Broadway, people came to this ‘stupid 80’s show’ with their arms crossed. Now we don’t need to earn their respect—we need to deliver the great show people expect.” And what does Jarvis think about the many comparisons of him to screen comedian Jack Black? “I’ve gotten those for the last five years,” he says with a laugh. “It’s the way this part’s written, and I already look like him. It bothers me occasionally, but I’m lucky to do what I do. I’m fully aware in another six months it could be back to stealing sandwiches!”