After starring as Frankie Valli, Young makes concert debut

21/02/2008 by Jay Lustig for The Star Ledger on

It was the role of a lifetime: playing rock icon Frankie Valli in the musical “Jersey Boys.” John Lloyd Young made the most of the opportunity, winning a Tony in his Broadway debut.

But now what does Young — who left the show in November after two years in it — do for an encore?

Young, 32, who grew up in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and now lives in Jersey City, is reading scripts, looking for another great role. But he is also trying something new, presenting two concerts on Saturday in New York.

Q. If this your first concert?

A. I did some private concerts during “Jersey Boys.” But yeah, this is my first public concert. It’s certainly the first time that people are buying tickets to come and see me, as myself. That’s a bit of a scary thing for an actor to contend with, but I think I’m ready.


Q. Do you see this as the first step of the next stage of your career — that you’ll do a lot of concerts and, maybe, recording?

A. It’s not what I’ve set out to do: I’m an actor first and foremost. The concert is sort of an accident — a result of being an actor who played a rock ‘n’ roll superstar in a show that had a heavy concert element. So now that it’s a skill that I’m very good at, and prepared to do, it’s an obvious offshoot. But I’m still reading scripts, I’m still auditioning for roles.

Q. What kind of material are you going to do? Broadway songs? Pop songs?

A. It doesn’t really make sense to me to do a concert with Broadway songs right now. “Jersey Boys” was my Broadway debut, and I didn’t sing any Broadway songs in that show. So I’m singing classic (pop rock) songs from that same period, and exploring this new genre that I accidentally discovered I was a good interpreter of.

The great thing is that, when you’re an actor playing a character — especially when you’re playing a real person, in a biography of their life — you’ve got to hit the marks that they hit, and a lot of the challenge is sounding like them, behaving like them, convincing the audience that you are that person. I enjoyed singing Frankie’s career, but a lot of those songs were very specific to him, and it required extra effort to be able to sing one or two of those songs that weren’t necessarily the most natural fit for me. So, choosing 75 minutes of material has been so exciting, because I’ve only chosen stuff that’s right for me.

Q. Can you give me a couple of examples?

A. Well, without giving away any of the playlist, I can tell you some of the artists I’ve chosen: Del Shannon, Roy Orbison, Three Dog Night, Sam Cooke, Jay and the Americans. Just great singers. And I’m not putting my falsetto away. Everything I discovered I could use in “Jersey Boys,” I’m using.

Q. Before “Jersey Boys,” had you ever done musical theater?

A. I did get the odd musical, but certainly never had the lead character, and only ever had one or two songs.

Musical theater is often musical comedy. I can play comedy, but … it’s not often that you have a musical where you plumb the depths of your soul, and tear out your heart in front of the audience, on a nightly basis. And “Jersey Boys” allowed me to do that.

Q. Would you ever release an album under your own name?

A. If someone approaches me with an idea that appeals to me, then of course I’ll say yes. “Jersey Boys” was that kind of situation. They needed someone to play Frankie. And I happened to fit, and it was a discovery for them and for myself, at the same time.

Q. What kind of musical backing will you have at this show?

A. Two backup singers and five in the band.

Q. Do you have a musical director?

A. Yeah, Ed Alstrom. He knows this genre very well. In fact, we met because he works with someone from that era: he’s the musical director for Darlene Love, and she invited me to be in her Christmas concert a few years ago. He and I put together a song for that concert, and discovered we liked working with each other. So we put together this show, and he introduced me to a lot of these songs. Knowing my voice, he suggested a lot of these songs that I distantly knew, but would not have really known were right for me.

Q. I have to ask: Will you sing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” or any other “Jersey Boys” songs at these shows?

A. I’ll answer you this way: There is one song that will probably follow me around the rest of my life, and it’s the same song that’s followed Frankie around during his life. We’ve got a really great problem in common.

Q. It is a song that you don’t ever get tired of hearing?

A. The thing about the lyrics of that song is that they’re universal. If you continue to live life and deal with the ups and downs of your own romantic life, a song like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” will have a different meaning for you when you’re 50 or 60 than it does when you’re 20 or 30. So it can actually deepen.

If my signature song were “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” I probably wouldn’t be too happy that I had to sing that the rest of my career. But this is a great song to be connected to.