May 27, 2007

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With John Lloyd Young–Part Two

May 27th, 2007

John Lloyd Young

In Part Two of his interview, John Lloyd Young reflects on the last year and a half of starring as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys–including the thrills and the challenges of his Broadway debut, his days at Brown; and how he and his colleagues worked to overcome the jukebox musical stigma; and what the cast and creative team had in common.

JBB: So, a year and a half after Jersey Boys began, do you still like coming to work every day?

JLY: I actually like doing it more now than I did a year ago. Because a year ago, I was doing eight shows a week; we were frontrunners for the Tonys–not just the show, but myself, too. When the press wanted to talk to me, I knew that I had to be talking for everyone, as the sort of de facto CEO of Jersey Boys.

Now there are three Jersey Boys’ companies; there are not just a few faces representing the company. I think that Broadway still represents the entity. The Broadway commercial runs in other markets and I’m certainly honored to still be the face of the show. I’ll be curious to see the first time someone asks me about being in another company. Broadway is sort of the “A Team” right now. Steve Gouvieia just left Broadway to be Nick Massi in the tour. Some of us may be plucked off to other companies.

JBB: Your job last year seemed somewhat overwhelming at times. What was it like this time last year compared to now?

JLY: Back then, my colleagues and I were the only ones representing the show. So, I felt an immense amount of pressure to never get sick and to always sing perfectly at every single show. In addition, we had to show up to all of the publicity events and appearances, including “Today Show” twice in one week during the last week before the Tonys. We did this to promote the show and to help everyone and myself win the awards so that we could really put Jersey Boys on the map. That was a lot of pressure to put on one person.

And honestly, I didn’t know how to do it, because I’d never been through it since it was my Broadway debut, so I was inventing the wheel.

I asked for advice, but everyone else was busy with their own things, so I had to invent it myself. It was a really lonely time. I did my best and I asked for help but didn’t get it since everyone was busy. Since I didn’t have a mentor, I just had to go on instinct. That was the scariest thing for me embarking on this show in the first place—playing a central character like Frankie Valli.

When I started the show, I knew that I had come into a show with no mentors. It wasn’t like doing a show with Bernadette Peters, a Tony winner who had done 12 Broadway shows already. All of us were new to this in most ways. My colleague Christian Hoff was in another Broadway show before, but he was in the chorus, and wasn’t the star.

To have to learn to do all that stuff was extremely stressful, So now, I’m on top of it–a Tony winner and the audience comes here expecting to see a great show! The pressure’s off of us; it’s on other shows who are competing for Tony awards this year and I’m just happy. For the last few months, I’ve felt free.

JBB: Your performances and interviews during that stressful time appeared flawless! I think many of us were under the assumption that you had a mentor?

JLY: I might have made some mistakes, but I learned very quickly that I wasn’t going to get debriefed before every important interview or before every important appearance. No one was going to tell me what to do or say so I had to guess. I had to make an estimation in my mind; draw on my Ivy League background and hope I’d be smart enough to say the right things.

You know, I started as a Political Science major at Brown, and most of my recreational reading was on politics. So, I had to draw on those instincts and that background. Back in 1997 and ’98, I was an intern in NYC production offices. I had a context for what the business of Broadway was like. During the early days of Jersey Boys, I had to determine what do I say and do in the press and in the media.

Outside of just performing my role as excellently as a I could, I had to think about what I could do to simultaneously promote the show and make my case, too, as this newcomer, because I knew we were going to be up for awards and I didn’t get much guidance. Everyone would be watching and listening to everything we said and did in the months leading up to the nominations. If I had my way, I would have been invited to the marketing meetings so that I’d understand what the whole “team objective” was, but the best I could do was just try to metaphorically put my ear to the door and hope to get a few kernels of wisdom to bring out with me into all the publicity I was helping with.

JBB: How difficult was it for you and your colleagues to overcome the jukebox stigma associated with Jersey Boys at first?

JB: We had a lot working against us since people labeled us as a jukebox musical. I knew that what we were saying in the press was what people were going to think about Jersey Boys. You sit down and see Jersey Boys, and you know it’s not some empty jukebox musical. It takes some of the important theatre insiders a long time to see the hit shows, so, it was important for what happens inside this theatre to be spoken about in the outside world. I think what’s written and said about you becomes the “truth” about a hit show until people get the chance to sit down in a seat and see so themselves.

I knew a lot of my language had to be preemptive language. We are serious actors; we are not the type of musical theatre actors that are closer to cheerleaders than actors. Everything that I said, I knew, had to counteract the prejudices that we were facing. My instinct was to focus on the story; my colleagues were doing this, too. So, we focused on the story–on the fact that it’s a sort of American dream kind of story–the fact that we tell the story and that’s primary. The songs are part of the story because we’re telling the story of a band and songs are what they created.

We all take all of our roles seriously as actors first. It wasn’t just dumb luck that we landed leading roles. We’re not just singers or rock star imitators. We all kind of instinctively knew that’s what we had to say. After the first few weeks, we saw the skepticism melt away and the hit show phenomenon take over.

JBB: There appeared to be some theatre snobbery regarding Jersey Boys?

JLY: There are some theatre snobs. I went to Brown University and their Theatre Department is very heady. Richard Foreman came out of Brown, along with Alfred Uhry, John Lee Beatty, Laura Linney, and Kate Burton–very serious theatre artists and serious avant-garde theatre artists like Foreman.

Brown University will be the first place to look down on musical theatre, especially a jukebox musical. I came out of that place and I had the same prejudices ingrained, because you can’t survive in that place without some being a little infected by some theatre snobbery, yourself!

I was determined not to let myself be in a jukebox show. Even if this turned out to be one, I would not act like it was one. Also, there are some people who say this is still a jukebox show. But they can’t deny that the stuff we’re doing on stage is valid. Des McAnuff’s direction is highly theatrical and very visionary and artistic; the book is artful and high on craft– everything comes together; and the quality of the actors is very important because if you stick somebody up on stage that thinks it’s light entertainment then it could turn into a cruise ship show to a degree. Mama Mia! is a very fun show, but it’s a different experience: Jersey Boys achieved a staggering critical credibility, and I hope it maintains it. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is really cool. There is not an ounce of silliness on that stage.

Everything that happens on that stage counteracts the tastelessness and banality of what you would previously think of as a jukebox show.

JBB: It appeared that the cast, the creative team, and everyone involved with Jersey Boys had something to prove to the world?

JLY: In the new Broadway show, Legally Blonde, one of the characters sings “A Chip on Your Shoulder” to Elle, the main character. I’m not sure if that’s the title of the song, but he tells her if you want to succeed, you kind of have to have a chip on your shoulder. If you have a chip on your shoulder, you work harder to overcome whatever the obstacle is, because you have something to prove.

Not only did we have to overcome that jukebox stigma, but everyone involved in the show had a chip on our shoulder. All of us were struggling actors; none of us were stars. All of us now are on the map, and we weren’t before, Our director’s previous Broadway outing was not a hit on the level of Jersey Boys; Brickman and Elice had never written for Broadway; Gaudio and Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons were perhaps overshadowed by the Beatles; and Dodgers also had not had a string of hits. Every single person working on Jersey Boys had something in common: we all had something to prove and we all had that burning rage to succeed at this endeavor. You put all those people in one room, working on the same thing and you see what happened.

I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t say that the story we are telling—the 4 Seasons had chips on their shoulders, too. Their humble beginnings, working so hard to succeed, fighting against adversity, they rose and fell, and rose again. Gaudio never won a Grammy, until Jersey Boys—now they’re so on the map—bigger than ever.

I just re-watched “Raging Bull” this morning. Talk about having something to prove. When Robert DeNiro saw that Cathy Moriarty was interested in the good looking competitor, he beats the shit outta him! He wins the match with even more fervor because he wants to prove he’s the best!

Thank you again to John Lloyd Young for Part Two of this incredible interview. In Part Three, JLY shares his most memorable on-stage and off-stage surprises and experiences; what advice he’s given to kids who aspire to be actors; what advice he would give to actors that dream of playing the role of Frankie Valli; and what he has discovered about himself since starring on Broadway.


  1. This interview is incredible! John is so introspective about the issues and the realities of performing. The way to learn is by doing. It is apparent that much of what John has learned about theater and performing he learned by doing it, refining it until “he got it right.”

    I tend to think that John would never be too busy to mentor a new actor. With his incredibly busy schedule, he always has time to help others – look at the charitable work he does, for example.

    Kudos to you, John, on who you are as a person and performer and how much you have accomplished! IE

    Comment by Irene Eizen — May 27, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  2. WOW. Everytime I read this interview, it just keeps getting better and better! John is such and incredible actor as well as an equally incredible person!

    I think he would be an outstanding mentor to a young actor. I know he could find the time to mentor a young actor, so he could pass on his extenisve knowledge of the theatre and his overall life experience!

    Comment by Kameron — May 27, 2007 @ 5:10 pm

  3. Thanks Irene & Kameron! Just wait until Part 3–the best is yet to come from JLY!

    Comment by Administrator — May 27, 2007 @ 6:23 pm

  4. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. John Lloyd Young is incredible!!! He seems to make everything look so easy. He is so natural and at ease, it doesn’t matter if he’s acting or doing interviews. He is the best! Can’t wait for part-3.

    Comment by THEA — May 27, 2007 @ 7:08 pm

  5. Great interview Susie and John!

    Comment by Kathryn H. — May 27, 2007 @ 7:44 pm

  6. Great interview so far. Can’t wait to read the third part! This show is one of the best I’ve ever seen! What drew me in? John Lloyd Young’s voice and the other three of course! *claps for the interview and anticipates the rest*

    Comment by Lauren — May 28, 2007 @ 2:41 am

  7. I cannot imagine being a newcomer and not having a mentor…I have been working for all of my adult life and have always had someone who has mentored me. Being in the public eye and under great scrutiny at all times without guidance and assistance? Mr. Young exhibits incredible poise and maturity. He has a great future ahead of him.

    Thank you for posting these wonderful interviews!

    Comment by Helen — May 28, 2007 @ 6:56 am

  8. I’ll add my twist on this subject of theatre snobbery… I feel that way now a bit toward other Broadway musicals. I have seen two other productions since first seeing Jersey Boys and I could barely stay till the end each time. I was thinking, “they call this theatre?”. Quality theatre is what’s on stage over at August Wilson (and at Ahmanson and Curran). John, you are generous when you say an actor has to be a cheerleader in some productions (how about ‘circus performer’?). Having seen the price people pay for snobbery makes me not want to get sucked into that; yet the unique quality of JB has, to use John’s words, left me a little infected, I’m afraid.

    And John, thanks for the perspective of everyone’s “burning rage to succeed” in terms of this show… writers, director, producers, Gaudio & Valli as well as the four of you, of course. It’s easy to think the creative team was just doing what they always do, but I see now that is a bit naive; huge success like this is a ‘once in a lifetime’ thing. Like Des said once, in regard to this show- he has never in his life seen standing ovations in a first Act and he suspects he never will again.

    Great questions, great answers, great interview!

    Comment by Audrey — May 28, 2007 @ 8:43 am

  9. Hi, Audrey,

    Your comments are expressed so eloquently! I enjoy reading and considering them. Thanks. IE

    Comment by Irene Eizen — May 28, 2007 @ 10:55 am

  10. Asking for help and trying to find a mentor can be tricky in any field. Sometimes people are indeed busy with their own lives.

    But I also think it may be a throwback to when we were in school. Everyone was competing to be valedictorian, so to speak, and it was all about individual performance. It takes time to realize that there are so many different paths available in the real world that we can help others achieve their dreams by mentoring them without fearing that they may outdo us at some point. In real life, we can all end up valedictorians–there needn’t be just one!

    Comment by Howard Tucker — May 28, 2007 @ 11:52 am

  11. Spoken as a true valedictorian, Howard! IE

    Comment by Irene Eizen — May 28, 2007 @ 3:25 pm

  12. Part of this segment is actually true here in SF. Next to the Curran Theatre is the American Conservatory Theatre, which is mostly dramatic theatre with a “few” musicals. Some of the ACT attendees dismiss the Jersey Boys as a “jukebox musical” and not to be taken seriously. I disagree because there is a honest to goodness storyline, there are established Broadway actors in the play, the music is enjoyed by all ages and the sold out crowds are proof that everyone loves the Jersey Boys!

    John Lloyd Young is definitely the “face” of Jersey Boys. Christian, J. Robert and Daniel are the “pioneers” that blazed the trail for the other casts and have provided the rest of the nation with their television talk show, parade and awards ceremony “teasers”, before the National Tour took flight. I thank them for their tireless efforts to let the nation know that they’re here to stay!

    I’m sure that the awards will keep rolling in for years to come and that they all deserve applause from the entire nation!

    Comment by Mike B. Magbaleta — May 29, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

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