Get ready, people. Antonio “Tony” Ardolino is on patrol!
Yes, the Jefferson native and 2010 graduate of the township’s high school is living the dream of many a preschooler in the U.S. He will soon be part of the PAW Patrol as Ryder, the precocious kid on Nickelodeon’s successful animated program. Led by Ryder, the beloved pup patrol performs helpful missions in Adventure Bay by working as a team.
Although animated himself in person, Ardolino will portray a genuine human Ryder in a live production of the popular Nick Jr. show when it takes to the road nationally. PAW Patrol Live! launches its New York-New Jersey metropolitan area tour this week at Madison Square Garden.
But Ardolino is also fulfilling his own dreams. As a second grader living in Cozy Lake, the actor fondly remembers being inspired seeing the show Beauty and the Beast. “I loved it so much,” he says, adding that he wanted to be up on stage with the characters.
“I wanted to pursue a career in theater since that second-grade day,” Ardolino tells The Jefferson Chronicle. “The best part is that my mother and father never doubted me. They cheered me on every step of the way, and that helped me shoot for the stars.” The young actor took the advice of his parents and has landed among the stars.
Moving to Los Angeles right after high school, Ardolino studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he further honed his talent. “Even when I wasn’t on a film set or a national tour, I was still performing at Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland,” he notes, adding that he also performed in regional theater and opera houses around California.
“Since then, I’ve been performing all over the country, and have acted in both television and film,” he says. In addition, he tells The Chronicle, he has worked on countless commercials, including one with David Hasselhoff.
Following his California stint, Ardolino was based for two years with Universal Studios Singapore, where he had the opportunity to write and direct shows as well as travel and act throughout Asia.
Passion for Acting Rooted in the Township
But it was in his hometown of Jefferson that Ardolino became grounded in his love of acting, and where it became his passion.
“In elementary school, I was always in choir,” he says. “I remember the first time they announced who got the solo for the winter concert. It was like American Idol to me,” he quips. “When Mrs. Courtney picked me, I think she mispronounced my last name. She was like ‘Ard-…Ardo…Ardolono?’ and I stood up and said with excitement, Ardolino!”
Although he got the choir solo that year, there were no musicals until middle school – where, it might be said, Ardolino got that proverbial first big break, winning the title role of Aladdin in the Disney version of the musical. Even at a young age, he never got stage fright. “I was always excited to be on stage,” he remembers. “I was kind of a shy kid growing up. I used that time on stage to say, ‘Look at me.’”
At Jefferson Township High School, Ardolino was involved with just about every performing arts type of activity – every level of choir, the music honor society, and the drama club.
“I also teamed up with Mrs. Latronica of child development,” he recalls, noting that she was one of his favorite teachers. Ardolino wrote an original script, made costumes, and directed teens in a show for tots. “Word spread around town fast of the cute children’s show and we were asked to bring it to Milton School and Stanlick School so those kids could see it too,” he adds.
“Like any kid who wants to be a performer, high school was a very interesting place,” Ardolino tells The Chronicle, with emphasis on the word “interesting.” He muses, “I used to make a performance out of every presentation, just to entertain the class.”
While living in Jefferson, Ardolino also performed outside of school every chance he got. “While other kids had baseball practice, my mom and grandma used to drive me from theater to theater, just so I got to perform,” he recalls. Among them were The All Children’s Theater, Parsippany; The Growing Stage, Netcong; The Baker Ballroom Theater, Dover; and the Brundage Park Playhouse, Randolph. But Ardolino says that his favorite place to perform was the Pax Amicus Castle Theater, Budd Lake.
“It was run by the incredible Stan Barber,” he says. “Performing at Pax Amicus was a highlight growing up. I encourage any young performer to do a show there and be inspired by Stan and the rest of the amazing people,” he adds.
“Of course, there were some people who never really ‘understood’ me and my passion to perform. But my mother and father used to say, ‘Don’t worry – every kick is a boost.’ I’ve remembered that all my life,” he notes.
Even with the kicks, there were, and still are, so many boosts. The latest, of course, is the role of Ryder. “Getting cast as Ryder in Nickelodeon’s PAW Patrol Live! is something I will never forget,” says Ardolino, noting it was his first audition upon returning from Singapore.
Experience of a Lifetime
“There were so many people for the role and I waited a long time to be seen by the casting directors. They gave me a song to sing and a monologue for the show. I then had to show off my dancing skills and hope for the best,” he tells The Chronicle.
“I remember after my audition, I wanted the part so badly, and then I began to see PAW Patrol stuff everywhere,” he recalls. His mother suggested it was a positive sign. Ardolino was in Times Square in Manhattan, heading for an audition, when he received the call from VStar/Nickelodeon. “I literally froze and couldn’t believe it! They were offering me the lead role of Ryder.”
The actor says it has been an experience of a lifetime. “Not only do I get to be in a state-of-the-art show that performs in huge arenas and gorgeous theaters, but I also get to travel all over the United States and Canada,” he says enthusiastically. “Plus, I love getting to be Ryder. I mean, to be a part of the Nick Jr. legacy is one thing, but then to originate the role in this show is another level of awesomeness.”
He adds, “I always get goosebumps when I first appear on stage and hear all the kids say, ‘Look Mommy, it’s Ryder!’ It’s literally the most amazing feeling.” Ardolino says he also loves what Ryder stands for. “He shows kids to be smart, brave, and to always lend a helping hand. Ryder and his pups mean so much to so many kids, and I am so happy to bring him to life every day,” he says.
Stepping on that stage is the hardest thing to describe, says the actor. “My heart beats like crazy right before I go on stage. But as soon as I’m in the spotlight, I am the most calm I’ve ever been,” he adds. “When I’m on stage, I feel the most like myself. I feel free, as if anything is possible. It’s the closest thing to magic I’ve ever felt.”
(Editor’s Note: PAW Patrol Live! will be in the New Jersey area as follows: New York City, March 22-25; Allentown, Pennsylvania, April 7-8; Trenton, New Jersey, April 17-18; Hershey, Pennsylvania, April 21-22; Atlantic City, New Jersey, April 28-29. PAW Patrol Live! ticket information is available at www.pawpatrollive.com/tickets.)