Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2014

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Justin Mortelliti of ‘Rock of Ages’: Looking forward through the bright lights of Las Vegas

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Denise Truscello/WireImage/DeniseTruscello.net

Kristin Hanggi, Carrie St. Louis, Justin Mortelliti and Kelly Devine arrive at the “Rock of Ages” grand opening after-party at the Venetian on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013.

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Mark Shunock, Carrie St. Louis and Justin Mortelliti of "Rock of Ages" arrive at the red carpet for Cirque du Soleil's "Michael Jackson One" at Mandalay Bay on Saturday, June 29, 2013.

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Carrie St. Louis, Darren Criss and Justin Mortelliti at “Rock of Ages” on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in the Venetian.

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Mark Shunock, Carrie St. Louis and Justin Mortelliti of "Rock of Ages" at The Venetian arrive at the grand opening of "Smokey Robinson Presents Human Nature: The Motown Show" at The Venetian on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013.

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Carrie St. Louis and Justin Mortelliti arrive at Jabbawockeez's opening night of their new show "Prism" at Luxor on Friday, May 31, 2013.

Robin Leach is winding down from his annual summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, and many of our Strip personalities have stepped forward again in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. As Robin gets ready to pick up pen, notepad and tape recorder to resume his Strip coverage, we continue today with “Rock of Ages” at the Venetian stars Justin Mortelliti, Becca Kotte, Tiffany Engen and Mark Shunock. Here’s Justin.

I never thought that my path would lead me to Las Vegas, the city of sin. If you told the 10-year-old me — the altar boy, the good Italian Catholic from New Jersey, the competitive gymnast, the violinist, the honor roll student — that I would be the lead in a rock show in Sin City, I wouldn’t have believed you — although I probably would have smiled.

When I got the call that I booked the role of “Drew” in “Rock of Ages” at the Venetian in Las Vegas, I didn’t really know what was in store for me. I didn’t know what a hit the show would be, that my song would soon be playing on the radio, that I would be back in the studio recording my new EP, that I would find a family of friends within my cast, that I would fall in love, get whip lash from head banging and meet so many other performers and celebrities.

I didn’t know about the red carpets and flashbulbs, the billboards that would have me, wig blowing in the wind machine, all over Las Vegas and Los Angeles. I didn’t know that my face would soon be plastered on cabs and buses pulling up next to me at stoplights up and down the Strip. I didn’t know that people would recognize me all over this city. I didn’t know. But if I did, I would have cheered a little bit louder than I did that day.

In “Rock of Ages,” I play “Drew,” a guy from Detroit who moves to Los Angeles in the 1980s to become a rock star. He works in a bar, falls in love and screams out ’80s power ballads to express his emotions. They talk about life mirroring art or art imitating life. Well, I guess that’s all true. I moved to Los Angeles eight years ago to be in the movies, to be a rock star, to make it. I did small parts on TV, in films and spent those years trying to build a name for myself in the Los Angeles theater scene.

While writing and recording my EP, “The Fall and Rise,” I played odd gigs here and there and shot music videos to promote my music. All the while I was shaking up cocktails all over the city behind different bars. They talk about the starving artist chasing dreams — that was the life I lived for a long time.

Like my character in “Rock of Ages,” I was suddenly swept into a world of possibilities. Upon moving to Las Vegas and starting this show, I was given so many opportunities where I was able to talk about my music on radio, TV and editorial interviews. Before I knew it, my song “The Fall” was playing on the radio next to some of my idols. The first time I heard it, I laughed, yelled, even cried a little. And now, after the show has become a hit here, I’m finally about to fulfill my next dream and release my second EP, “The Prince of April,” this summer.

As a kid with a wild imagination, I would dream about having an album, about singing for thousands, about shooting music videos, being in movies, living a life of art and excitement. I would dream about seeing places like Las Vegas and California. It’s definitely a mindf*ck to be actually living these things in the here and now. I wish that I could sit that 10-year-old down and say, “Buddy, it’s gonna be really hard but really fun.”

Do you ever get the feeling that your life is finally being lived? Finally starting? All that time that went by when I was a kid, a teen, in my 20s, I was waiting and waiting for something to click. For life to begin. I didn’t realize that I was living. That the lessons that I was learning, the work I was doing and the person I was growing into, the time I spent getting to know me, was living. Now I can see that. Finally, I can sit in the now and enjoy it. Try and resist the urge to see what tomorrow is about and be in today.

But isn’t it important to stay the dreamer? To create your future in your head and run toward it? Keeping that thought alive in your head that living is what is paved ahead of you and not realizing that you are currently already running down that pavement. Living — this feeling I guess is what keeps me moving. Toward something. A goal? My future? My life.

The lights and excitement of Las Vegas are my now, and I’m finally able to be in it, enjoy it and realize that I am living my life. But the lights of now can be a fun distraction if you let them; this city has so much to offer. Way too much of everything you could want, all brightly lit and pretty.

I could be in the now and get lost in it all — lost in Sin City — or I could keep running down the pavement that I dreamed about. Enjoy the lights of Las Vegas as they become blurry lines around me. Feel their glow; enjoy their warmth, but only in my peripheral. As I keep looking forward for my life to begin. I think that’s the way to do it.

“Rock of Ages” celebrated its 600th show at the Venetian last Friday.

Be sure to check out our other “Rock of Ages” guest columnists Tiffany Engen, Mark Shunock and Becca Kotte. On Wednesday, we meet up with Jennifer Aleman, who runs the long-running topless show “Crazy Girls” at the Riviera, and Las Vegas singer Franky Perez.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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