Stage lights up, house lights down, let’s light this firecracker on legs.
Scampering down the onstage staircase onto the funk-a-licious set of the Venetian’s Rock of Ages, “Lonny”—our narrator and guide through this self-mocking musical awash in ’80s hair-band kitsch—introduces himself and the show’s cast of kooks.
Dude’s a daffy demon in a fake mullet. Grade-A nutbar. But an impish one.
Joking, winking, leering and prancing to a pumped-up full house as the boy-meets-girl (metalhead-style) plot unfolds around him, he sports T-shirts reading “Camel Toe” and “Hooray for Boobies.” Busting through the proverbial fourth wall with asides to the audience, he pops in and out of scenes like a possessed Jack-in-the-Box.
Raunchy shtick comes at the crowd like an onrushing tide:
Licking the leading lady’s hair. Shimmying across the stage on his knees, pants-down, ass-up, wriggling in his tighty-whities. Rockin’ out to “Just Like Paradise,” head boppin’ like a duck frenetically pecking at breadcrumbs. Conducting a sound check at the show’s fictional rock club by yelling, “I have an enormous penis!” Illustrating said penis by strenuously lifting the invisible phallus over his shoulder and lugging it across the stage as the audience roars with lecherous glee.
“That guy,” says a patron to his date, “is fucking hilarious.”
Cue the flashback. (Imagine a TV scene, screen all wavy, faces all squishy).
Average Tuesday morning, 10 hours before curtain-up, hangin’ with Loony Lonny—a.k.a., actor Mark Shunock, who in only three months has established himself as the liveliest wire in a live-wire show. STOP. Hit the mood-changer button.
Silence is a living, breathing creature in this middle-class ’hood in southwest Vegas, pushed back from the I-215 bustle like an aloof party guest, mountain rising around it like some burly, implacable bouncer.
Don’t live here? Not visiting?
Beat it. Amscray. Hightail it back to, ya know, “Vegas.”
Mercifully mullet-free right now, 35-year-old Shunock lives amid this eerie quiet, in a modest, three-bedroom abode he purchased in 2009 when he thought he might join The Lion King at Mandalay Bay. No-go on that gig, so he rented out to other show-bizzy types until Rock made him a resident when the show bowed in December.
Wife/actress Cheryl Daro is Los Angeles-bound for an audition, leaving him only three hefty companions—meet Perry the Labrador, Princess the Rottweiler and Max the mutt—that disrupt the peace with frenzied paws, slobbering tongues and hungry eyes cast expectantly at baby carrots their master pulls from the fridge.
“Watch this,” he says, directing his canine cast as he balances one goodie on each of their snouts. “Go!” Heads jerk, mini-orange missiles sail upward, then downward.
Neat trick. Shunock beams.
Who is this guy who performs like he just stuck a finger in a light socket?
Trim, compact, with a hail-fellow-well-met charm—a dialed-down Lonny, if you will—the guy who portrays one of the Strip’s zaniest characters is as content as an actor with an apparent hit show can be. “They tell us that tickets are on sale through 2014,” he says, plopping down at his dining-room table for a brief interview before we head out to breakfast. “That’s a great sign.”
Unlike most theater thesps who claim they belted out “Give My Regards to Broadway” in the womb, this transplant from Ontario turned to the stage life only after icing his fledgling hockey career as a goalie for the Belleville Bulls in the Canadian league.
“It didn’t pan out where I was going to play every day and that started to get to me,” Shunock says. “You’re by yourself at the end of the ice and I’d start singing in the crease.” (Note to those who don’t know a puck from a matzo ball: A “crease” is the playing area directly in front of the goal.)
“I took singing and dancing lessons as a kid, so when it came time to pursue other things, it was a natural fit.”
Broadway hasn’t beckoned yet, but TV commercials and small film roles have, as well as a two-year stint as Timon in the national tour of The Lion King. Auditions followed, including one for that hit about street-corner crooners from the Garden State.
“I went through the Jersey Boys ringer with what they call Frankie Camp in New York,” Shunock says. “They put you up for a week and they teach you all the music and the dancing.” Not making it to Jersey, he instead bounced to L.A. and, in usual young-actor fashion, took a bartending gig.
Passing on an opportunity to join Rock’s national tour—“I wanted to settle in Los Angeles for a minute,” he says—Shunock was still remembered by the casting director, who promised to phone when a “sit-down” version materialized in Vegas.
“It was three years later, but she did call,” he says. “I’m spoiled. I’ve got the goofiest part. I hope this show lasts for years and years.”
Chow-down time. Destination: Egg Works on East Sunset. After Shunock flips on the wall-mounted radio—his pooches gotta groove to some tunes in his absence—we climb into his big, honkin’, 2004 Honda Element. “It’s my toaster on wheels,” he says.
See that P.T.’s bar/grill? Video poker gods smiled upon Shunock when he first arrived, bestowing a $520 jackpot. “That’s where it happened,” he says behind the wheel, a trace of amazement in his voice that’s unique to newcomers for whom luck’s been a lady. Hooked on playing those come-hither contraptions now? “I haven’t done it since.”
Over eggs and coffee at Egg Works, Shunock is a gracious meal companion—even politely asking the waiter about my MIA rye toast—who good-naturedly recounts some amusing career stopovers. “Can you believe I was in a movie called Lethal Eviction?” he says. (Horror flick, 2005. Judd Nelson starred. Missed it? So did everyone.) “Friends would joke about it and say, ‘You’re in a movie called Lethal Erection?’”
While we’re in a gonad motif, there was also that encounter involving Paul Newman and missing testicles. … Whoa, let’s back up and set this up: aspiring off-Broadway actor scores a rather sexless role in Princess Turandot (based on the opera) at Connecticut’s Westport County Playhouse, operated by Joanne Woodward, Newman’s spouse. Decked out in his eunuch’s tunic, Shunock runs smack into The Legend in the hall.
“He says to me, ‘Even knowing you have no balls, you can still get out there and stick it to them,’” Shunock says, smiling at the memory through a forkful of egg. Perhaps that earned him a small cosmic connection to Newman when he landed a bit role in Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice, a fast-melting 2002 follow-up to one of Newman’s best-known films. Cast as an irate fan, Shunock got to get into the face of star Stephen Baldwin and tell him off (a pleasure not afforded most of us).
Wanna get him amped up to nearly Lonny-like levels? Ask him about that blank upstairs den wall at his home, and the nearby camera equipment he points at it to produce audition tapes.
“Those tapes are badass!” he says, explaining that as his agent forwards scripts onto him for TV pilot season, he asks his wife or other actor pals in town to read with him, then creates links and emails them directly to casting directors. Gone, he says, is the actor’s wild card—a bad co-reader, low energy, a mid-scene sneeze—that can wreck his chances at a live audition. “I control everything!”
No sitcoms yet, but Shunock’s career attitude—especially after scoring the Lonny prize—is head-on-straight smart. “It’s like gambling,” he says. “Don’t get greedy. Walk away from the table when you have the $100.”
Speaking of which … Check, please.
Back in the toaster-on-wheels, we’re Strip-bound. Destination: The Cosmopolitan. Destination within the destination: Stitched—clothing store of Mark Shunock’s dreams. A dog eyeing a lamb chop’s got nothing on this man eyeing these racks.
“Isn’t this dope?” he asks, admiring some snazzy footwear, a pair of Allen Edmonds navy blue shoes, starring bright red laces. Outfitted in jeans and T-shirt, Shunock doesn’t at this moment exude fashion-forwardness, but sleek threads make his eyes sparkle. Now a prominent actor in a prominent show, with red-carpet invitations piling up, he’s made Stitched his Sartorial Central.
Not buying or even renting today. Just cultivating a personal “inventory.” And damned if it ain’t dazzling. Over 45 minutes, Brandon the salesman gussies up Shunock in front of a store mirror in stages, shirt by jacket by slacks.
Step back and get an eyeful: Mark Shunock in striped shirt, checkered sport coat with fire-engine-red cuffs turned out, patterned tie, red lapel blossom and checkered pocket square. An ensemble that once might have been likened dismissively to a TV test pattern has, thanks to evolving tastes, been reborn as the height of chic, and Shunock carries it off with aplomb.
“This is just awesome!” he says—then a little Lonny pops up when he gazes out the window of an adjoining private room that overlooks other stores. “You see that?” he asks. “You can see into the dressing room of the bikini store.”
Hmmm. Too bad we don’t have that “Hooray for Boobies” T-shirt handy. Speaking of which … showtime’s ticking closer.
After returning home for some pre-performance chill time, including a hike with Perry, Princess and Max, Shunock hops into his motorized toaster around 6 p.m., pulling into the Venetian around 6:30 for the Rock of Ages rock-out at 8.
Amid the backstage labyrinth of dressing rooms, at the end of a hallway, is Mark/Lonny’s. Neighbors include the show’s co-lead young lovers, Carrie St. Louis—who shouts out a brightly chipper “Hello!” worthy of her wide-eyed ingénue character, Sherrie—and Justin Mortelliti, who plays wannabe rocker Drew.
Across the way is the room of Troy Burgess, who portrays Dennis Dupree, the middle-aged, hippie-ish owner of the Bourbon Room, the show’s fictional club. Adorning his wall is a poster of a topless woman, plus a calendar featuring the ladies of Luxor’s Fantasy, which includes his missus.
“I’m stressed,” Burgess declares. “I’m almost out of beer.”
Striding in soon after, offering a friendly greeting and firm handshake, is tall, strapping soap star Kyle Lowder (Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful), who gives a full-on hilarious performance as addled rocker Stacee Jaxx.
Commencing his nightly routine in his room, Shunock’s in a pristine white robe, one of a bunch he purchased online for his castmates, which he had embroidered with the Rock of Ages logo. “I wanted to,” he says. “People are running around here in their skivvies.”
Stripping down to his jeans, he begins his transformation into Lonny. Step one: applying fake tats—a skull, an eagle and a pinup girl—by wetting his arms, then pressing the macho images into place from a sheet. “They last two days, and sometimes I forget I have them on,” he says, admitting to a touch of embarrassment when he’s in public. “People see them and I’m like, ‘No, no, they’re fake!”
Now comes the crucial piece of the Lonnie puzzle. While his character requires no makeup, the mullet makes the man. After attaching a sticky ACE bandage and a hair net he pins into place, Shunock heads to the hair-and-makeup room, where wigmaster Robin Lee tops him off, slipping on and straightening out the hairpiece that lives on as the hirsute symbol of an era.
“When the hair hits the head,” Shunock says, looking into the mirror, “it’s game on!”
Light the firecracker. Mullet Man’s in the house.
Mark’s gone. LONNY’S ON. Rock of Ages opens on the shoulders of the grade-A nutbar scampering down the stairs.
“That guy”—as a sage theatergoer observed—“is fucking hilarious.”