Although it might sound like John Lloyd Young has a lot to prove– he is the only one of the four leads who did not appear in the musical when it ran at the La Jolla Playhouse—he’s got absolutely nothing to worry about. This dashing performer brilliantly taps into the soul—and the angelic falsetto voice—of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, which marks his auspicious Broadway debut.
Jersey Boys: How did you get cast in the show?
John Lloyd Young: As with any other project, my agent called with an audition. I had no previous relationship with any of the creative team, but I was familiar with all their work and had, years before, been an intern in one of the producers’ offices during college. After my fifth audition, white knuckled, worried and exhausted, I stopped into a neighborhood store off Times Square to sit down for a while and think. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” came on the radio. I said to myself, “I think I got this part.”
JB: Was it difficult meshing with three actors who had already been working together for months?
JLY: The great thing about playing in a band is that all the members of the band need each other. Similarly, when you’re a cast of actors, you need each other for the project to succeed. I needed them as much as they needed me, so we all worked together beautifully from day one. I knew my material cold first day of rehearsal, because I knew I’d be coming into a cast that had a lot of experience with the show. That helped tremendously when it was time to jump in with the rest of them.
JB: Do you employ any special vocal techniques in order to sing in falsetto?
JLY: In interviews I dug up researching this role, Frankie Valli himself admitted that his falsetto was just an accident. He thought everybody had one. Everybody doesn’t, so it’s a special thing if you do. Similarly, I always had a high falsetto, but there certainly aren’t many roles in plays or musicals where you need to use it, so I never did. The only use I ever had for it was in the shower or to amuse my friends at karaoke. The minute I got the offer to play Frankie Valli, I went into voice training and worked daily for four months to protect what I already had and make it stronger.
JB: Were you familiar with The Four Seasons’ catalog before you started working on the show?
JLY: I was very familiar with their songs because they’re everywhere. When I got the part, I listened to their albums on a loop for three months straight. About a month before rehearsals started, I stopped doing that so that I’d forget the specifics of what Frankie Valli was doing and be able to make the sound my own. I haven’t listened to the Seasons’ songs since, and probably won’t, just so that I can be sure that I’m interpreting his sound, not imitating it.
JB: Have you spent any time with Frankie Valli?
JLY: I have met Frankie, but we haven’t had much time to hang out. He’s got great advice, having used that high falsetto in concerts for years and years. I’m sure he and I will have some social time in the future.
JB: Does it feel odd to play a real person?
JLY: No, and here’s why: Whenever I research a character, I find ways to figure out how he moves, thinks, speaks, etc. For example, I played Danny Saunders in a play based on the Chaim Potok novel The Chosen. The book was peppered with observations about how he spoke, moved, thought and behaved. So I used the information in order to build the character. Similarly, when I’m playing someone who’s living, I can observe how they move, talk, etc. I can do the same research. In many ways, I can do it better.
JB: Have you ever done anything illegal, à la Frankie Valli?
JLY: I’m sorry; I have to take the Fifth on that one.
JB: You seem to play a lot of Italians and Jews. What’s your ethnic background?
JLY: I don’t know that I play a lot of Italians or Jews so much as I play a lot of New York-types. It’s a part of my background. It’s a way of life I’m very familiar with, so it’s accessible to me. My mother’s side is Italian-American. But with a name like John Lloyd Young, you do the math: I’m also American back to the Mayflower.
JB: Are you enjoying channeling Frankie Valli eight shows a week?
JLY: It’s a real joy to be able to play someone so beloved and sing music that everyone loves so much. Honestly, there are times when the knowledge that I’m an actor playing for an audience just disappears, and instead, I feel like I’m an audience member, too. The music just sort of lives there in the middle between actor and audience, and everybody’s celebrating it together.