Broadway's Frankie Valli — John Lloyd Young — Bids Farewell to Jersey Boys

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
21 Nov 2007

Tony winner John Lloyd Young.
Tony winner John Lloyd Young.
Photo by Peter Hurley

"What was the high point?," asks Frankie Valli at the conclusion of the Tony-winning musical Jersey Boys. For Tony Award winner John Lloyd Young, who made his Broadway debut in the role of singer Valli, it's tough to find anything but highs.

Playbill.com spoke with the star Nov. 15, just a few days after he unknowingly played his final performance (Nov. 9) in the Four Seasons-inspired musical, which has been dark since the stagehands strike began Nov. 10. (Young's final show was scheduled for Nov. 21.)

"It's disorienting [not to be performing each night]," said Young, but noted the free time was prepping him for what's to come: "I feel like what life is going to be like on the other end." The actor, who earned a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his first Broadway role, admits the scope of his own rags-to-riches story had not yet struck him. "It's still staggering, and I think the more distance I have from actually being in the show day to day, the more blown over I'm going to be by that realization — that I did that."

"The place I was when I got this role and where I ended up when we opened were just two different performers altogether," noted Young, who had little song-and-dance experience prior to Jersey Boys. "I had never expected to dance on a Broadway stage in my life. I had the notes, but I had to learn to be able to sing that show after show after show. When I first started auditioning for the part, I couldn't even get through a few songs without being hoarse. I had to synthesize from a good actor who could sing into a great singer and passable dancer —and a great actor in an epic role. The most rewarding experience ever was undergoing that synthesis and stepping out there on stage when we opened. That was the finish line — to grow into a Broadway star when I was just a struggling actor before."

Although he met an array of "names" from the worlds of politics, music, sports, film and stage during his time with Jersey Boys, Young recalls feeling nervous just twice: when he performed in front of his predecessor in the role, David Noroña, who originated the character for the La Jolla Playhouse world premiere ("I was sweating the entire time"); and for his new acting teacher, Harold Guskin ("I felt like I was doing bad community theatre in a church basement because I wanted to be good for him").



One of his more recent backstage visitors provided him with some sage wisdom. "Mandy Patinkin came backstage a few weeks ago," said Young. "He told me, about ten years after Sunday in the Park with George had closed, they had asked him to do some kind of commentary or interview about it. He hadn't really thought about it in a long time, so he put the CD [on in] his car to refresh himself on the experience. He had to pull over on the side of the road; he was sobbing because it hit him so hard. And he said, 'It's going to happen to you,' and I said, 'I know you're right,' Young recalled with an audible smile. "'I just hope it doesn't happen when there are a lot of people around.'"

Young also managed to use his steady job on Broadway as a grounding mechanism. ABC had signed the actor to a holding deal earlier in his run, though nothing came of the contract. "I read a lot of interesting scripts and learned a lot about how TV works. When I make the inevitable stab at the L.A. trip — though I think I always want to be a New York resident and New York actor — now I've been oriented to it."

One of the projects that passed through Young's hands features a number of other stage stars: "Pushing Daisies" with Kristin Chenoweth, Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene. "I saw the script, which I thought was great. Literally, like an hour after I got off the plane in L.A. to read for it, I got a call from my agent that it was cast. All of those things were easy to take in stride because I was starring in a Broadway show."

One gig that is on the horizon for the actor, something he terms "a very interesting accident," is a concert for the Lincoln Center American Songbook series (Feb. 23, 2008, at Lincoln Center Jazz's Allen Room). "I never thought I would do concerts, but it seems an obvious kind of off-shoot of what I did in Jersey Boys. As an actor, my discipline is such that I have to be as perfect as I can be at every element of my characterization. To play an excellent singer, you better sing, so and now I'm an excellent singer. I'm trained really well and have endurance and stamina and all that stuff that I had to build up towards."

Young knows that the concert sold out so quickly because of his Jersey Boys fans and, as such, is gearing up for the event as a "kind of a Jersey Boys swan song." He explained, "I'm going to sing music form that period — some Del Shannon, Lou Christie, Sam Cooke and Roy Orbison — just stuff that I love from the '60s. I want to build a bridge from what I did in Jersey Boys, and why everyone knows me, to whatever I might do in the future as a vocalist if I choose to continue to pursue that."

In the interim, his plans are simply to get away. "I'm absolutely certain what I'm going to do the first week I leave is get in a car and just sort of drive and stay where I stay and write in my journal. I know that it's going to hit me like a wall that it's really over, and it's going to be very emotional for me. I'm going to miss [my castmates] very much."

Other than that, the future is wide open for the star. "Once I decided to leave the show, I've had really nice meetings with people, [and] I've heard some exciting ideas. But, in my short career, most of the things I've been great at kind of found me. I wouldn't have thought I could play this role, and it was an accident. So I never really see [dream] roles that I want to go tackle, but I do know when I read a script [if] I'm interested in. [I get] that sort of nervous feeling in my stomach when I read something that's going to end up being really good. I've been reading lots of scripts, and I'm waiting for it to happen again!"