February 19, 2006

John Lloyd Young–From Stuggling Actor to Broadway Phenom

February 19th, 2006

A lot can change in a year. Just ask actor John Lloyd Young, who’s currently starring as Frankie Valli in this season’s Broadway smash musical, Jersey Boys. Channing Gray, of The Providence Journal notes that a year ago, Brown grad Young was ushering for a Broadway show. Since his Broadway debut in November, The New York Times dubbed him the “theatrical find of the year, ” and many insiders are predicting a Tony. Reflecting on his rags-to-riches story, Young says,

“It’s mind-blowing. I just wanted a job. Who knew I’d be in the standout show of the season, as some people are calling it.”

It’s not that Young suddenly came out of nowhere. He has spent the past seven years as a struggling actor, playing in smaller regional venues. His appearance opposite Theodore Bikel in The Chosen got him noticed by a New York casting director, who asked him to audition for Jersey Boys. Young lost out to a Californian who opened the show at the La Jolla Playhouse near San Diego. But the actor decided to bow out after the California run, and the producers, recalling Young’s talents, contacted him for the Broadway production. Young was an understudy for The Drawer Boy at the Paper Mill Theatre in New Jersey when he heard that Jersey Boys was coming to New York, to the newly named August Wilson Theatre.

After Young was offered the part of Valli, he had four months to prepare. For the first three of those months, he listened daily to tapes of The Four Seasons on his Walkman. Then, he stopped listening—so that he wasn’t imitating Valli, but was singing in a way that was right for him. In addition to warming up and cooling off his voice on a daily basis, Young also has to lead a regimented life with lots of sleep, exercise, healthy eating, and no booze or caffeine.

Young has been singing his whole life. Back at Brown , he used to hang out with friends at a downtown karaoke bar and sing Tina Turner songs in their original key. He never knew this “party trick” would turn into a professional asset. Even though he had sung a lot, Young signed up for voice lessons when he got the part of Valli. He began formal training with Katie Agresta, whose technique is specifically tailored to rockers.

After reading the book for Jersey Boys, Young was pretty certain it had the makings of a hit. As Young thinks about his first Broadway musical, he doesn’t know if he “will ever work this hard again.” Young had always thought his first Broadway role would be in a show with a lot of veterans who could show him the ropes. He was surprised to find no mentors in Jersey Boys, which has a cast pretty much as inexperienced as he.

While Young has gotten a lot of positive press, perhaps his biggest compliment came from Valli. During one of the previews, Valli showed up and led the theater in a standing ovation after Young sang “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Young said, “That’s something to tell my grandchildren.”

Young has been contracted for a year with the show, which opened November 6. Young said he’s also interested in making a record, and checking out the scene in Hollywood. Although the doors are “cracking open” for Young, he thinks any future offers will have to be somewhat substantial. He says,

“This is such a major role, it would take quite a formidable one to trump it. I’m worried that I’m spoiled, that this is the best thing I’ll ever do.”

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