(Re-)"Introducing John Lloyd Young"
An original “Jersey Boy” is coming to New Jersey next weekend.
Well, coming back, to be exact.
John Lloyd Young, who won a Grammy and a Tony for originating the part of Frankie Valli in the Broadway hit “Jersey Boys” and then reprised the role for the film version, will bring his solo show to the Centenary Stage Company in Hackettstown on April 6.
It’s called “Introducing: John Lloyd Young.”
Yes, he’ll perform songs from the famed musical about The Four Seasons when he steps on stage at the Sitnik Theater at the Lackland Performing Arts Center. But he’ll also sing in five languages and tackle a collection of hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s — doo wop and R&B classics, and tunes by Roy Orbison, the Temptations and Carole King.
“I know there will always be a certain percentage of the audience who comes because they love the movie or they saw the show,” Lloyd Young says. “(But) there’s stuff in this set that will introduce another side of me.”
“I’m hoping it will be memory lane and discovery time, too.”
Jersey Arts had a chance to speak with Lloyd Young about his time as a Jersey City resident, his love of another Garden State icon, working with Clint Eastwood, the toughest song he sings, and how close he is to an EGOT.
Jersey Arts: You’re from California and you moved around a lot as a kid. But does being involved with “Jersey Boys” give you a special affinity for New Jersey?
John Lloyd Young: Well, I lived in Jersey City the whole time I was doing “Jersey Boys.” And the first thing I did, like right out of college, when I moved to New York City, I actually wasn’t in Manhattan right away. I was on my best friend from college’s mother’s couch in Bergen County. (laughs) Then, my first show that I ever did, when I first started to qualify for the actors’ union, was at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton.
Paper Mill Playhouse (in Millburn), I also did a couple plays there. And Paper Mill Playhouse is where the “Jersey Boys” casting directors kind of discovered me. I was playing a Hassidic Jew in Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen” with Theodore Bikel.
So Jersey is a big, big theme for me in my career — in the beginning of my career.
JA: Jersey City is now a place where lots of people are flocking to.
JLY: It was just starting to gentrify when I was there. There wasn’t even a bodega yet. But I’ve heard it’s really popped up.
JA: The show you’re performing in Hackettstown is called “Introducing: John Lloyd Young.” But you’re a Grammy and Tony winner. Don’t people already know you?
JLY: People seem to know me, but they know me for playing — it was my job — to play another singer. And I know I did a good job doing that. But the introducing is about the fact that most people know me only as playing Frankie Valli. So this is my voice.
JA: Why this collection of songs?
JLY: We’re taking pretty much the set we just did at the Carlyle Hotel in New York to Jersey. I’m never not gonna do songs from “Jersey Boys.” I know there will always be a certain percentage of the audience who comes because they love the movie or they saw the show. But then I also have discovered over the years a real affinity and ease with classic R&B from that period. And I also sing in other languages.
So there’s stuff in this set that will introduce another side of me. I love the Spaghetti Westerns, Ennio Morricone, the kind of Bond-theme kind of songs that have a sultriness to them. But there will be all of the “Jersey Boys” stuff, the “Jersey Boys”-adjacent stuff, and more. I’m hoping it will be memory lane and discovery time, too.
JA: What languages will you sing in?
JLY: I sing in Hebrew and Spanish and Italian and Mandarin, in English. Lots of different stuff. And, in this set, I’ll sing my favorite ballad ever — the first song I ever learned in Spanish, and one of the best songs ever written, by Gabriel Ruiz from Mexico.
JA: I know you grew up all over the place because you’re the son of an Air Force officer. Were you inspired by different music in different places?
JLY: Because of certain circumstances, I had three sets of grandparents that I was very close to. And their music was the war-era music. So Frank Sinatra was primary in my childhood. He’s a New Jersey icon. So it was all about Frank Sinatra for me growing up.
And then I had one set of grandparents who were from Fordham Road in the Bronx, and they had seen all of these classic Broadway performances — Robert Preston in “The Music Man,” Yul Brenner in “The Kind & I.” And those were part of the mythology of my childhood. So that was an obvious influence.
JA: It’s a shame the place where Sinatra grew up in Hoboken is now an empty lot.
JLY: Well, I can say for people who are of a generation younger than the Sinatra generation, Frankie Valli’s childhood home is still standing in Belleville. It would be a quick, easy Google search to find it.
We, in fact, went and shot scenes outside there for the “Jersey Boys” movie. Our last day of shooting was in Belleville, New Jersey. We did most of the shooting with Clint Eastwood here in L.A. and spots in L.A. that could double as Jersey and then half the shoot was on the backlot and on stages. But then, we did two days of on-location shooting in New Jersey at the end of our shoot.
And Frankie Valli and I — there’s a photo out there somewhere, you can find us sitting on his stoop between setups, just talking.
JA: Did Frankie Valli ever tell you what he thought of your performance as him?
JLY: Yes. He was very happy with it. We’ve become friends over the years. Obviously, at first, it was a little spooky to see someone up there playing you as a younger guy. But then, I think, over the years, he’s gotten used to it, because now there have been dozens of people who have done it.
JA: Was it a challenge transitioning from playing that role on Broadway to playing it on film? Did you have to make a lot of changes?
JLY: The only challenge was that Clint Eastwood does not hold your hand through the process of making a movie. He expects his actors to know what they’re doing. But having done it on stage at least 1,300 times … When you’re doing a scene and there’s a last line or something, you’ve got the crew there. When you’re doing it on Broadway, you have an audience. So it was built kind of into my DNA, understanding the peaks and valleys in the script. And knowing the audience’s reaction was on stage informed the performance on screen. I kind of knew where there would be a laugh.
I wouldn’t call it challenge because it didn’t feel like a challenge for me. It felt like a privilege to me to be able to take this character that I was so constrained — after a while, you’re doing one script for 1,300 performances. We were able to breathe a little bit when we did the movie because we could go off script. Clint Eastwood would encourage us to go off script. So we’d keep rolling and keep improving scenes. What made it to the screen was very close to the script that was written, but the fact he let us breathe and let us play around with the characters sort of opened it up, and I think there’s more psychological insight into the characters. Just by nature of it being a film, you get to see the people up close and what they’re thinking. When you’re on stage, their faces are far away from you. So that’s a built-in limitation. I was really excited to be able to let the psychology of a character I knew very well be in full view.
JA: What is the most challenging song for you to sing, either from the past or in your act?
JLY: It changes. I’m a much better singer now than I was when I did “Jersey Boys” in the beginning. Because I’ve got, now, more than a decade of experience under my belt in all different scenarios.
I can say that one of the things I will never lack appreciation for is my starting on Broadway. There’s no better training ground for a live singer than Broadway. You’ve got to make it work eight shows a week. You don’t have anything to hide behind. Everything that could possibly happen to a singer you’ll experience during a Broadway run. So I’m so prepared to sing when I get up to the stage. I know what to do if I’m feeling any of the singer problems people have — I know how to solve them.
There’s one song, though, in “Jersey Boys” that’s a very nice moment in the stage show when Bob Gaudio, the songwriter, catches Frankie Valli singing in a nightclub. It’s a vocal jazz piece — “Moody’s Mood For Love.” If you’re feeling any sort of cold or whatever, it can be torture to have to sing up in that register. It’s so delicate. I would say: The only time that there’s ever a song that’s hard to sing when it’s up in that really ringing, beautiful falsetto and I’ve got a cold.
JA: So you won a Grammy for the “Jersey Boys” cast album in 2006 and a Tony the same year for lead actor in a musical for that show. That means you’re halfway to an EGOT. What do you think you have to do to nab the Emmy and the Oscar?
JLY: (laughs) Obviously, a great movie role or writing a song for a movie or something. But I’m not really thinking of that. I used to say this after I won the Tony award: You can’t really take your Tony into Safeway and spin it and get your groceries for free. You’ve still got to work. So it’s a very nice day, it was a red-letter day, and it’s great to see the trophy and have those memories. But you’ve still got to get up every day and make it work.
JA: Where do you keep your Grammy and Tony awards?
JLY: I keep them in my library with all my cherished books. I’m an Ivy League graduate (Brown University), and I always have lots of books around me. I’m never gonna give into a Kindle. I have to have analogue reading material.
JA: What’s next for you? I know you have six shows coming up at 54 Below in New York City at the end of May.
JLY: There are some things coming up. You know, the best thing is: Right now, most of my work is concert work, which is so exciting. And I love to play clubs — like the Carlyle, which we’ve done every year for several years now. 54 Below is on the horizon. That’s Michael Feinstein’s club.
Editor’s Note: JYL’s performance on Saturday, April 6 at the Sitnik Theatre of the Lackland Performing Arts Center is sold out. However, a wait list is available. Contact CSC box office directly (908) 979-0900.