No actor in the history of Broadway has managed to make as big an impact with one role as John Lloyd Young did with his star turn as 1960s singing superstar Frankie Valli in the instant smash musical a “Jersey Boys.” In 2006, at just 31 years old, he became the only actor to date to have received Lead Actor in a Musical Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World awards for a Broadway debut.
He went on to reach double platinum status with the play’s cast album, as it attained the rare feat of selling over two million copies, and then went on to another milestone when director Clint Eastwood picked him to play Valli in the 2014 movie version of the play. Yet Young has been eager to introduce himself to his “Jersey” fans and other music lovers, and will do so locally with a Sunday night concert at The Rose in Pasadena.
“Right now, not promoting an album so much as singing from an album of retro hits I made and also ‘Jersey Boys,’ a ‘get to know me’ tour outside of playing Frankie Valli, which is how most know me,” says Young. “We do a string of dates everywhere, just did San Francisco, and have several East Coast dates next month. I do a good amount of Frankie Valli songs, but also other classics from that era, like ‘Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me’ by Mel Carter, ‘Lady Willpower,’ ‘Unchained Melody.’ It’s a night of ‘Jersey Boys’ songs, early rock, R&B and doo wop.”
Young landed the coveted role of Valli after establishing himself in off-Broadway theater in New York City for several years. The play had originated at the La Jolla Playhouse before heading to Broadway and he had lost out to another actor on that early version, but he “seized the role and was ready for it” when the producers recast it for the Great White Way a year later.
He immediately headed to Vegas to see Valli in action after landing the role, but didn’t choose to meet the legendary singer. Instead, he “took notes on a napkin” while observing his performance and then set about getting to know Bob Gaudio, who was a fellow member of the Four Seasons and thus one of the real-life “Jersey Boys,” in addition to being the vocal group’s songwriter.
“I really needed to fly to Vegas because YouTube had just debuted so I had no video footage to study his face and physicality,” recalls Young. “I studied Frankie’s recordings because I had to get close vocally, but I had a lunch with Bob since I felt someone’s best friend would get you closer to the truth than the person themselves.
“The biggest takeaway was he was deeply influential in doing the show on Broadway, London and the movie with Eastwood,” Young continues. “Basically he told me that before I even set into a script or rehearsal room, that Frankie Valli is a little man with a big heart and I think that comes through now in the singing. Now I’m not singing as Frankie but I’m singing as myself, I’m a little man, I do have a big heart, and I put a lot of that into my singing.”
Young played on Broadway for the first two years of its 11-year run, and also played six weeks on London’s storied West End before returning to the Broadway production for a few months in 2013. He knew that Valli was “one of those once in a lifetime roles, like F. Murray Abraham had in ‘Amadeus,’ Dustin Hoffman in ‘Tootsie,’ or Ben Kingsley in ‘Gandhi,’” and loved “the really cool and huge opportunity to play a beloved singer in a movie that could last generations like ‘La Bamba’ or ‘The Doors.’”
“It was very different winning the role for Clint, because I had made such an impression in the original,” says Young. “It was years later when Clint was attached to the movie so I was grateful to be remembered and at least audition for the movie. But what did it was I was back on the show when he was putting it together and he went to see me on Broadway at my absolute best, and as a result I didn’t even have to audition for him. My performance onstage was my audition.”
There have been other amazing experiences along the way, as he performed with his original Broadway cast mates at appearances before Congress and at the White House as well. In fact, he made such a strong impression on President Barack Obama, who had the cast perform at a state dinner for the Japanese prime minister since it was the PM’s favorite movie, that he was appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Young resigned from the commission in August 2017 in protest against what he deemed President Donald Trump’s “hateful rhetoric.” He recently moved to Pasadena, making this hometown show easy on his schedule.
“I’m a New Yorker born and bred, so for me to be able to go to Old Pasadena and have any cuisine the world has to offer at so many of those restaurants, IPic movie theater, and the South Pasadena farmer’s market is a real joy,” says Young. “I joined Michael Feinstein for the season finale at the Arboretum last year, an easy car ride from my house. I’m a Buddhist, I speak Mandarin and there’s a lot of Mandarin in San Marino, so I feel really at home.”
John Lloyd Young performs at 9 p.m. Sunday at The Rose, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena. Tickets are $28 to $58. Call (888) 645-5006 or visit wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com.