Jersey Boy(s), a Toast of Broadway – New York Times

28/05/2006 by Mark Rotella for N.Y. New Jersey

photo: Dith Pran/The New York Times

photo: Dith Pran/The New York Times

IT may be one of the few musicals men actually drag their wives to see — time after time. In this case, at least, their judgment is apparently impeccable.

The Tony nominations were announced a little more than a week ago, and “Jersey Boys” — the Broadway musical about the lives, music and times of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (of Newark and Belleville) — earned eight of them, trailing only “The Drowsy Chaperone,” with 13 nominations, and “The Color Purple,” with 11.

Little wonder, since from the time it opened on Broadway last November, “Jersey Boys,” which features a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, has been a critical success and one of the hottest tickets on Broadway — which is not always the case.

John Lloyd Young, the man who plays Frankie Valli, has received not only the Tony nomination for lead actor in a musical, but also similar award nominations from the Drama League, Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle (in the last two cases, he has already won). Appropriately, Mr. Young, who is 30, lives in New Jersey.

He moved to Jersey City just as “Jersey Boys” opened in previews last October. But why did he move from Brooklyn to a city on the other side of the Hudson? To tap into his “Jersey Boys” roots? For inspiration?

“For love,” Mr. Young answered, as he sat at a table at Madame Claude, a cozy sun-drenched cafe in downtown Jersey City.

For love of New Jersey?

“No, love of my girlfriend,” he said with a smile, referring to Alison Franck, who has lived in Jersey City for about four years and has been his girlfriend the last two.

Mr. Young sipped his tea, and cut into his egg-and-cheese croissant. Dressed smartly in designer jeans, a black T-shirt and a navy blazer, he reminded me of Mr. Valli, who wore a stylish blazer over a sweater made of merino wool the time I met him. Mr. Young, who is half-Italian, even has Mr. Valli’s dark hair and looks.

“My mother’s name was Cianciola,” he said. “Which means ‘sad eyes’ in Sicilian dialect.”

Mr. Young‘s mother died at age 26, when he was 2 years old and living in Plattsburgh, N.Y. But he continued to visit his Italian grandparents in Queens. He grew up listening to Frank Sinatra and Vic Damone and was encouraged to perform by his father and the woman who later became his stepmother.

“When I was 3 years old, they stood me on the kitchen chair and had me sing,” Mr. Young said. “And that year I sang ‘You Light Up My Life’ at their wedding.”

Later, he performed in high school musicals and then studied theater and Spanish at Brown University. Soon after graduating, he made his first New Jersey connection with his professional debut at the McCarter Theater in Princeton as part of the ensemble of “A Christmas Carol” in 1998.

His first big role was as the Hasidic teenager Danny Saunders in “The Chosen” at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn in 2004. He commuted from Park Slope, Brooklyn, and it was at the Paper Mill that he met Ms. Franck, who was the show’s casting director.

While he was an understudy for another Paper Mill show, “The Drawer Boy,” Mr. Young auditioned for the La Jolla, Calif., production of “Jersey Boys.” The role he sought was that of the Four Seasons’ founder, Tommy DeVito. But upon seeing Mr. Young and hearing him sing, the director, Des McAnuff, asked him to audition for the role of Mr. Valli, who grew up in Newark.

When Mr. Young didn’t get the role, he began working as an usher for the Broadway revival of “42nd Street” and transcribing celebrity interviews.

“I had prepared for the DeVito role, not Valli’s,” he said. “I didn’t seize the role. You don’t ever land a part you don’t seize.”

When he read in a theater trade newspaper that “Jersey Boys” was going to Broadway and that the Valli role had yet to be filled, he called his agent to ask for another audition.

“It’s a specific role,” Mr. Young said. “You have to look like him — be slight of build, be Italian looking, be able to sing. And you should probably be a good actor.”

Mr. Young also had a good falsetto, having sung along as a teenager to the Bee Gees, Chicago and Supertramp. He didn’t fully appreciate his gift, but it was the falsetto that surprised everyone.

While preparing for the part, Mr. Young met with Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons member who wrote most of the band’s music.

“If you want to learn about someone — especially a legend — you talk to that person’s best friend,” Mr. Young said.

While in rehearsal, Mr. Young finally met Mr. Valli himself, from whom he continues to learn.

“Every time I meet him, I steal something from him — a gesture, a way he says something,” Mr. Young said. He quit his job as an usher in 2004, and a year to the day later — on Nov. 6 — “Jersey Boys” opened at what is now the August Wilson Theater (it was then the Virginia).

On June 11, Mr. Young will find out whether he will win a Tony for his first Broadway role. Christian Hoff, who plays Mr. DeVito, has also been nominated, for featured actor in a musical. He, too, lives New Jersey, in Millburn.

Naturally, Mr. Young would love to win the award, but he keeps in mind what his singing instructor, Katie Agresta, tells him. Tens of thousands of actors come to New York to work; thousands actually find work; hundreds are cast in Broadway shows; dozens gets lead parts. But only five are nominated.

For now, Mr. Young has been doing a variety of fund-raisers, and participating in lunches auctioned off on eBay by Broadway Cares/EquityFights AIDS. Most of the lunch guests have been men — “middle-aged baby boomers from the tristate area,” he said. Unlike the Beatles, the Beach Boys and some of their other contemporaries, the Four Seasons attracted a mostly male working-class audience.

“I had one lunch with a guy — a member of New York’s auxiliary police squad,” Mr. Young said. “He had seen the show with his wife five times, and he told me that now when he thinks of Frankie Valli, he sees me. That’s a high.”

After performances, Mr. Young returns home to Jersey City. He lives off of Hamilton Park, picks up coffee at Basic and relaxes at local bars like the White Star and the Ale House. He and Ms. Franck also take walks along the Newport-Pavonia waterfront.

Living here, Mr. Young said, “makes me want to get a dog.”

“It’s a dog lover’s paradise,” he said.

Mr. Young said that when people come to the stage door and greet him after “Jersey Boys,” they always ask him if he lives in New Jersey.

“The best thing is that I can say that I live in Jersey City,” he said. “They beam and have this proprietary glee that I actually live in Jersey.”

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