Review on John Lloyd Young’s “American Songbook” cabaret debut at Lincoln Center

27/02/2008 by David Finkle for

Presented by and at Frederick P. Rose Hall’s the Allen Room,

Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle, NYC.

Sat., Feb. 23.

The question in a fan’s head on awaiting the second of John Lloyd Young’s Allen Room debut solo concerts was, What does he sound like when he’s not Frankie Valli? Well, the prize-laden Jersey Boys lead singer sounds a lot like — you guessed it — Frankie Valli. At least he did through the first few tunes.

It was the falsetto, of course, which the slim, energetic Young explained was not only Valli’s but his own. Dressed in a black suit and spaghetti-strand black tie, he reported that he’s often asked whether he knew he had such a fluid falsetto before he auditioned for the Four Seasons’ stage biography. Yes, he knew as much. For years he’d entertained himself with it in the shower.

That alone was rationale enough for his keeping up the dog-calling-register warbles on 1960s and ’70s songs not associated with the Four Seasons but calculated to keep the Jersey Boys cheering section happy. Fronting a clever cover band helmed by pork-pie-hatted Ed Alstrom, he began with Lou Christie’s “Lightning Strikes” (Christie-Twyla Herbert) and Jay and the Americans’ “Cara Mia” (Tulio Trapani-Lee Lange) and — I swear this is true — Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” (Mark Knopfler), during which he executed some extreme body writhing.

There’s only so much that can be said for falsettos, of course. The sound is great but not the best approach to conveying emotion. It’s strictly aural effect, and if Young had skipped exclusively through the falsetto-friendly Great American Songbook chapter, he’d have risked being tiresome.

Luckily, though, he used the vocal trick as a bait-and-switch tactic. Once he’d captured his audience, he tried a few things that fit his announced intention to sing “this time as myself.” One of the most effective strategies was singing a song through without rocketing into the stratosphere for police-siren notes. In these selections — the truly beautiful one being an entirely uncomplicated “Till” (Charles Danvers-Pierre Buisson-Carl Sigman) — he kept within baritone range and let his feelings do the talking. He also kept it simple on “At Last” (Harry Warren-Mack Gordon). He introed the ’40s standard by asking the audience to regard it not as a love letter from one adult to another but as a sentiment addressed by a father to his newborn.

It was at these moments in the hourlong program that who Young is and could be even more of began to crystallize. Heretofore an actor as devoted to Chekhov as to showbiz glitter, Young has an unprepossessing manner and a trained voice that he treats with respect. Calling a specific singer the next Sinatra at this point in American popular singing is not only a cliché but virtually meaningless. There will never be another Sinatra. Yet Young comes as close as anyone — closer, say, than Michael Bublé, who’s currently being awarded the designation.

If only physically, Young is reminiscent of the microphone-stand-skinny Sinatra of the ’40s Paramount scream fests. But his direct manner and the guilelessness in his delivery are also reminiscent of the Sinatra whom he first heard on his parents’ eight-track tapes. There’s something else about his manner that isn’t especially Sinatra-like but somehow befits the crooner mold from which Young could be issuing. (That’s assuming the crooner tag isn’t damning nowadays.) He uses his hands as well as or better than just about anyone singing today. Watch for it. You’ll see it.