Jersey Boys Blog was honored to interview Tony Award-winner John Lloyd Young prior to his matinee performance on Sunday, July 9, 2006. John Lloyd discussed his amazing year from his Broadway debut in Jersey Boys to winning the coveted Tony Award; his life as an actor; and what it’s like to play the legendary Frankie Valli on the Great White Way.
JBB: It’s been just about a year since the media announced that you landed the role of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys. When you accepted the part, what did you think this would mean for your career? Did you have any idea that the show would be a blockbuster hit and a Tony winner?
JLY: Well, I knew I landed the part in April of last year, but I had to keep quiet about it. There were delicate negotiations ahead, and I was going to have to fight hard for all the things I knew I’d need in order to pull off such a difficult part. It became official on June 12, 2005.
I was exhilarated when I landed the Frankie Valli role, but there was a lot of pressure and responsibility with the role-it was a solo crusade. I had six months of training, rehearsals, and previews to build up the stamina to play the role. We also opened in the winter when it’s very rough on the voice. My vocal coach Katie Agresta, who has been training rock stars for forty years, was up for the challenge. Katie has given me one of the greatest gifts-a peace of mind–and, in her words, a “larynx of steel.”
Earlier in my career, I had triumphs and well-reviewed performances. I always can tell from the first time I read a script. The first time I read those scripts, I laughed and cried. I really identified with the characters. And in each case, it ended up being a successful portrayal in the end. I felt the same connection with the Jersey Boys’ script.
I’ve always been able to sing, and I was up for a lot of catalog, or jukebox musicals in the past, though I can’t say I always wanted to be cast! Generally in musical theatre, you can’t always expect to see a lot of high quality scene work, and jukebox musicals are on the bottom rung, in that regard. You don’t expect to get high-quality scene work in a jukebox musical, but this play is about the band and is so well-written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice that it can attract real actors. The fact that Jersey Boys won Tonys for Best Musical, Best Lead Actor, and Best Featured Actor is a real testament to how good it is. I felt that there was a lot of potential with the script.
Jersey Boys is a real play with great music, and it’s great because everyone works to serve the piece. If you look at Sergio Trujillo’s excellent choreography, it’s rather underrated and unrecognized, but it’s because he serves the piece, not himself. Bobby Spencer does the same and downplays his portrayal of Nick Massi. He serves the piece.
JBB: Congratulations on winning the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical! When you actually won the Tony and they called your name, was it surreal? Your acceptance dedicated to your father was extraordinarily touching. How did it come about?
JLY: Thank you. During the luncheon for all the Tony nominees, CBS asked us not to thank a list of names in our speeches. It would be more interesting to a national audience to say what the Tony meant to us, personally. And I thought about that and realized that all the Tony speeches I could remember were the ones that said something personal. I abandoned my multiple, polite, obedient drafts and went straight to what got me to me the most, emotionally.
Because I had already won three other awards, with the Tony, I was prepared to win; but I was also prepared to lose. I rewrote the speech many times, because you have 90 seconds to get it right, and you don’t want to screw it up. I knew I’d talk about when my father and I lost my birthmother, then, after Christian won for Best Featured Actor, I was re-writing a new entrance to my speech, in my head, since Christian had also mentioned his lost parent. And all along, I was nervous and wondering whether I’d even get to use the speech at all.
Since Father’s Day was a week after the Tony Awards, had I not won, I would have given my father my written speech on Father’s Day.
The most thrilling part of the Tonys, though, was winning Best Musical. Because not everyone has felt sufficiently recognized, this year, and a lot of people have been very upset by that. Daniel Reichard and Bobby Spencer, especially, deserved to be recognized, because they originated the show with Christian Hoff in La Jolla, along with a great deal of our Broadway cast. It was very nice to see them happy and celebrating a shared award.
JBB: As you prepared to take on the role of Frankie Valli, you saw him in concert in Las Vegas. What were your first impressions of him as an entertainer and as a person?
JLY: As Valli walked on stage, the energy completely changed. Although he has a great band and great backup singers, the energy in the room didn’t come alive until he walked on stage. He has an aura. There is warmth and affection for him from the audience.
JBB: Jersey Boys is the hottest musical on Broadway. What is it about the story and the music that makes the audience feel so connected?
JLY: The story is told by four relatively unknown actors who are playing the Four Seasons. Most people do not remember what the real Four Seasons looked like, so they can easily believe us as those characters. The audience follows the story and connects with the four guys going through their struggles, hitting it big, and then losing it all. It’s a story of the 1960s, with the Four Seasons as the tour guides.
JBB: What’s your favorite scene in Jersey Boys?
JLY: The explosive scene between Mary and Frankie, when Francine, their daughter, calls them on the phone. Although I’m not married yet, and I’m not a father yet, in that scene I feel like an estranged husband and a father. This scene also pays homage to my grandfather, and Jennifer Naimo, with her red hair, reminds me a bit of my grandmother.
JBB: Give us your best line.
JLY: She says to me, “Francine needs a father.” I answer, “How about a mother? Whyn’t you pull yourself together?!” It’s my favorite line because the writers Marshall and Rick invented a word: “whyn’t.”
JBB: What’s the most challenging part of playing Frankie Valli?
JLY: The challenges of playing Frankie Valli are mostly now behind me. There were six months of training, including listening to the Four Seasons’ music non-stop for months before the first rehearsal, along with rehearsals and previews, and managing the workload of playing this role. It was a challenge to build the character, and become that rock star, and it was a challenge to build up the stamina to play this role. Now it’s still eight shows a week, which is still hard, but all that preparation is behind me. It’s always been and still is a challenge to keep that stamina up, which means no staying out late, no drinking, etc. And that can be isolating, literally: I can’t have a social life with the cast or even my own friends. But the sacrifices have been so obviously worth it in so many ways.
JBB: In Jersey Boys, you go from a 16 year-old blue-collar kid with a dream to be a singer, to a 60 year-old superstar, who experienced amazing success in the music business, as well as heart wrenching personal and professional tragedies-how do you transform yourself? What is the theatrical process that you use to make it believable?
JLY: I am an actor! I know how to change my expressions and my voice. Transforming myself is my job. But there are other elements at play, too. As you see on stage, as I grow older, I begin to wear more mature clothes. Late in the play, there are times when my director, Des McAnuff, has me with my back to the audience. I’m sure it’s easier to believe someone as older when you’re seeing their back, and hearing an older-sounding voice. The lighting is harsher, late in the play. So there is also help from the lighting and direction, as well as the change in design and my own physicality-so these elements come together to make it work.
JBB: What would you like to do next? Do you have aspirations for an Emmy or an Oscar?
JLY: It was an incredible honor to be nominated for and win the Tony, since it is recognition from our peers. However, I am not in this for awards. I do want to do Emmy-level or Oscar-level performances. Whether I get awards or not is less important than the level at which I’m working. You can’t survive for almost a decade as an unknown actor if you’re just in it for awards or publicity. It’s all about the work. It always has been. I strive to play high-caliber, interesting, challenging roles. Maybe now I’ll just have an easier time finding them.