JLY Shines at Lincoln Center! True and falsetto

25/02/2008 by Jay Lustig for The Star Ledger on nj.com

Life after ‘Jersey Boys’ opens doors for Young as singer, and he comes through with style

NEW YORK — No wasted notes. No pointless gestures. No throwaway song selections. In his concert debut, Saturday night at the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, John Lloyd Young approached his material with the precision of an actor, and a falsetto that few performers of any kind can match.

Young is, indeed, an actor, first and foremost. In his Broadway debut, he played Four Seasons frontman Frankie Valli in the “Jersey Boys” musical, and walked away with a Tony. He left the show in November after doing it for two years; while trying to determine his next role, he scheduled the Jazz at Lincoln Center appearance. No other concerts or recording projects are planned, but he is open to them.

And he should be. He is not going to be MTV’s next superstar. But there is a place for him in the music world, if he wants it. His classy stage presence and sensitivity to a song’s nuances make him a natural for the cabaret circuit, at the very least.

“I grew up in the ’80s,” said Young, a 32-year-old Jersey City resident, early in the first of the two shows he presented Saturday. “I should be singing Duran Duran. But I’ll spare you that.” Instead, he concentrated on hits by the likes of Lou Christie (“Lightnin’ Strikes”), Jay and the Americans (“Cara Mia”), Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (“Young Girl,” which he admitted he found a bit creepy) and Sam Cooke (a medley of “Cupid,” “Wonderful World” and “Another Saturday Night”).

Songs like “Lightnin’ Strikes,” Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and Del Shannon’s “Runaway” showcased his falsetto, honed to perfection by his “Jersey Boys” experience. And Valli’s signature song — “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” which was the “Jersey Boys” show-stopper — served the same function here.

After mentioning that, as an actor, he likes to play characters with a dark side, he strung together a medley that began with some restrained pop elegance (the Ben E. King hit, “Spanish Harlem”) then grew more tortured and melodramatic with songs popularized by Santana (“Black Magic Woman”) and Three Dog Night (“One”).

He crooned “I Only Have Eyes For You” with just pianist Ed Alstrom. But throughout the rest of the show he was backed by a seven-piece band that included the Smithereens’ Dennis Diken, on drums, and Ula Hedwig, one of Bette Midler’s former Harlettes, on backing vocals. The band, assembled by Montville resident Alstrom (the show’s musical director and arranger), ranged effortlessly from propulsive rock, on the Vogues’ “Five O’Clock World,” to pseudo-disco, on Three Degrees’ “When Will I See You Again.”

“At Last” sounded remarkably fresh, due to both the band’s bluesy, lightly swinging arrangement, and Young’s suggestion that listeners hear it as a valentine to a newborn child, rather than a lover.

Though generally Young, who dressed in a conservative black suit, performed with an air of unfussy, businesslike intensity, he did offer some effective comic relief. Tackling the Tina Turner hit “Private Dancer” — which he sang once in a karaoke bar, finding it “oddly empowering,” he said — he struck some silly, Turner-like poses. Later, he told an endearing story about his Sinatra-loving uncle trying to stay calm, but ultimately exploding with anger, when listening to Grand Funk Railroad’s bland, repetitious “Closer to Home” on the radio.

On an even more personal note, he talked about his birth mother, who died when he was 2, before singing Christopher Cross’ “Think of Laura.” (His other mother, who adopted and raised him, was in the audience.) He heard the song, about a girl who was “taken away so young/taken away without a warning,” when he was 8, and thought it was written for him, he said.

It wasn’t the greatest musical moment in the show, but it helped fans feel a closer connection to Young. And that’s part of what being a pop singer is about, too.