Interview with John Lloyd Young Lead Star of Jersey Boys

05/12/2005 by Corine Cohen for

Corine Cohen: Congratulations on your performance in Jersey Boys. How does it feel to be part of a production that has become an overnight success?

John Lloyd Young:When I read the script to prepare for the audition, I knew JERSEY BOYS had the potential to be a huge success. The songs were already great, but the story was great, too. And neither compromised the other. You can be an actor in this show without for a second trudging through some inane scene that’s just the excuse for the next song. It’s the story of a band, and a fascinating story to be a part of. The fact that audiences are now having the same reaction to the show as I did to the script way back before even the first rehearsal is an amazing and satisfying feeling.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an actor/performer?

I was acting in plays from 6 years old. The first play I did was a production of the Wizard of Oz at a local college. I was the shortest and youngest in the cast. In the stage production of The Wizard of Oz, the way they make the Witch shrink is they have Dorothy chasing the witch around the stage spraying her with one of those plant misters. There were three columns in the castle and behind each was hidden an identically-dressed, smaller “Witch.” I was the smallest one, and when I ran out from behind my column and into the wing, yelling “I’m shrinking, I’m shrinking!” the laughter from the audience was enough to keep me coming back for more my entire life.

What kind of research have you done to prepare for this role?

I read interviews with the Seasons and Frankie Valli, listened to the Seasons’ recordings on a loop everyday for about three months straight before rehearsals, watched footage at the Museum of Television and Radio and even hopped a plane to Vegas to see Valli live onstage. Aside from that, the script is VERY strong. The characters just jump right off the page, and that is testament to the skill of Brickman and Elice, who masterfully translated their interviews with the Seasons into playable, actable scenes.

How did you come to this role? (Audition process, etc.)

I was up for the first regional production at LaJolla. I hadn’t done a big musical, ever, though I was always a strong singer. I was up for a lot of musicals, called back often, but mostly just ended up being in plays. Sometimes I think you have to be somewhat of a cheerleader and less of an actor to be right for certain musicals, and the fit just was never there. I really have to believe in what I’m doing, or else I’m just not good at it. When I got the script from JERSEY BOYS, I was so ensconced in the world of straight plays that even though the script was great, the idea of doing a musical still seemed strange to me. I was taken by surprise, I think, and I didn’t have as strong an audition as I could have. However, by the time Broadway came around, a year had passed, I remembered how great the script was and my mind was in the right place: I WANTED to do it, and I went in there and auditioned with greater fervor than I had first time around. Five auditions later, I had the role.

For you, what is the best part about performing on Broadway in Jersey Boys? Do you have a favorite song to perform and why?

The best part of performing on Broadway in Jersey Boys is that I’m making my debut in something I’m so proud of. I feel like I get to use the parts of myself as an actor and performer that I’m proud of — I get to dig into a scene, I get to be strong in some places, vulnerable in others. I get to be a rock star and perform songs for the audience much in the same way the Seasons would have. Both “Sherry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” have huge buildups preceding them in the script. Because the dramatic payoff is so great when those songs are finally performed, they are my two favorite songs to perform in the show and among my favorite moments in the script.

Do you have a mentor or someone who has inspired you?

I’ve been lucky to work in theatrical productions with some real theatre royalty. I played Theodore Bikel’s son in THE CHOSEN. I understudied in a three-man play starring Tony-winner John Mahoney from FRASIER. I did a workshop of Chazz Palminteri’s A BRONX TALE, which he’s developing for Broadway, opposite Chazz himself. When you work with celebrated actors who have some years on you, you pick up a lot of very helpful hints. More than just tricks of the trade, however, if you pay attention, you’ll also pick up on the ATTITUDES of a successful actor and artist. And if you’re smart, you will carry forth those attitudes into your own life.

What was the first Broadway show you saw? Can you remember the experience?

The first show I saw was ANNIE. I was six years old, and I had just seen the movie. My mother told me that you’re not supposed to be able to see an actor in the wings. I remember seeing the little girls in the wings before they made entrances and thinking “I’m not supposed to see them!” I was also fascinated with the treadmill contraption on the stage: the actors were walking but staying in place. I was in the mezzanine, so the mechanics of the stage were very visible, and I was fascinated at how it all worked.

Who was the first person to expose you to the theater?

My mother brought me to my first audition for that college production of The Wizard of Oz. I was six, it was the summer, I had a lot of energy: it was a no brainer.

Outside of performing in JERSEY BOYS, do you have passions or hobbies in which you partake?

I’m a big non-fiction reader. Though right now I’m reading Camille Paglia’s new book on poetry, which I suppose is a non-fiction book about fiction. She takes 43 poems from the canon and then writes about each of them. It’s like taking a poetry class all by yourself. And I write. Roald Dahl-esque short stories. Like children’s stories for adults. Though I find that I write more often when I’m not acting. I always need to be doing something creative, and writing fills in the gaps between acting jobs. Not surprisingly, during JERSEY BOYS, I haven’t been writing so much, I’m creatively engaged and I’m also busier than I’ve ever been just with the show itself. I also love to work: as an unemployed actor 80% AT LEAST of what you do is seeking work. And that challenge has always been perversely fun for me. The first 12 minutes of the movie TOOTSIE which show the impossible life of a struggling actor in New York galvanized me: I saw the beginning of that movie when I was a kid, and knew I wanted to be an actor. There was something captivating and irresistible about that impossible challenge.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York City?

I love Pastis in the meatpacking district. It’s like a laid back slice of Europe in the heart of New York.