February 17, 2006

John Lloyd Young—The Hot Ticket on Broadway

February 17th, 2006

How hot is John Lloyd Young’s Broadway career? Young, who is making his Broadway debut playing Frankie Valli in this season’s smash hit, Jersey Boys, talked to Associated Press reporter Mark Kennedy about his early days as a struggling actor, his current success, and what may be next for him.

While Young was studying acting and doing odd jobs last year, the closest he got to a Broadway stage was as an usher, handing out Playbills for folks attending the musical 42nd Street. Young, a 1998 Brown University graduate, whose biggest credit pre-Broadway was a part in Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., thinks about all that is happening to him,

“There are people who wouldn’t answer my phone calls a year ago who are suddenly not just saying, ‘Do you want to audition for this project?’ They’re saying, ‘What kind of projects do you want to do? That’s pretty heady.”

And get this, this year, he’s not only receiving critical acclaim from reviewers and audiences, he’s also been asked by the owners of the famed theater-district restaurant Sardi’s to sit for a caricature. Regarding this honor, Young said,

“I see that as a real hallmark event,” Young says, excitedly. “I thought it would take me 10 years to get a caricature at Sardi’s, not 10 weeks. That, to me, is astounding.”

What’s getting Young noticed is his turn in Jersey Boys, the “behind the music” musical about the doo-wop group the Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. The production, written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo – explores the career arc of the group: their meeting, their money and women problems, their breakup, and finally their 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Young auditioned for the Valli role back in 2004 where the Jersey Boys production debuted at La Jolla Playhouse near San Diego. Young reflects on the opportunity back in La Jolla,

“I wasn’t ready. When the script came to me, the first thing I thought, to be perfectly honest, was, ‘I’m not right for this kind of project.’ I expected I would make my debut on Broadway in a play. I never expected I’d make it in a musical. Most Broadway musicals didn’t seem to be the right fit for me.”

Even so, Young went ahead and auditioned for the smaller part of DeVito. Producers liked him, but then asked him to return in two days and try for Valli.

Although Young lost the role in La Jolla, the actor who had beaten him for the Valli part dropped out when Jersey Boys headed to Broadway. That opened the door for Young. Practiced and ready, he nailed a string of auditions.

I think the right part came along for him and he was ready for it,” says director McAnuff. “He’d done all the prep work and he was ready to step up to the plate.”

Young did a lot of prep work, to put it mildly. First, Young dusted off his falsetto, a talent he rarely employed other than in the shower or doing Tina Turner impressions at karaoke. Then, he went to the Museum of Television and Radio to watch old footage of the Four Seasons. He also went on a secret visit to Las Vegas, where he scribbled notes on a napkin as he watched Frankie Valli in concert. Valli returned the favor, showing up unannounced at a rehearsal of Jersey Boys and sat a few feet from Young as the younger man belted out many of the Four Seasons’ hits.

Young is beginning to think about where his career will go now that it’s got some heat. Though he’s contracted to do Jersey Boys for a year, he’s already worried. Young ponders,

There’s a little anxiety that if I don’t put things in the pipeline now I could be knocking on doors again,” he says. “But I think that’s just Catholicism and not reality.”

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