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John Lloyd Young Becomes Talk Of The Town

By Gary Wien


A year ago, John Lloyd Young was an usher handing out programs at a Broadway theatre. As Frankie Valli sang, "close and yet so far." One year later, Young portrays Valli in one of the hottest hits of the Broadway season, "Jersey Boys." What a difference a year makes. Instead of being frustrated at seeing others on stage where he wanted to be, Young is now one of Broadway's rising stars and a hero to ushers everywhere!

"When you're ushering you couldn't be any farther from being the star of a Broadway show. It's almost like rubbing salt into a wound. If what you want to do is be up there on the stage, you couldn't be any farther. As an actor, you're very acutely aware of the irony. So one day, we were doing a benefit at another Broadway theatre on one of their dark nights," recalls John Lloyd Young. "The head usher came up to me and said 'you were an usher right?' and I said yes. He said, 'you're our hero!' That was a Hallmark moment - even better than Sardi's!"

Oh yeah, the Sardi's thing. For those who are unfamiliar, Sardi's is the famous Times Square restaurant that puts caricatures of stars on its walls. When an actor or actress sees themselves adorning that wall they know they've made it.

It took Young less than five months on the Great White Way to earn the honor.

"It was just so unexpected," said Young. "I'm working so hard that it feels deserved, but it felt early. And yet, I think that increases the honor and the value of it for me."

When Young talks about working hard, he's understating it quite a bit. The role of Frankie Valli is probably one of the most demanding roles he will ever play on stage. He does eight shows a week with each show featuring about 27 songs. Add in the fact that his character is rarely off stage and you can see why he compares this role to that of a professional athlete.

"Before when I was doing a play I could go out afterward and have a drink with the cast; I could stay out late, sleep in forever and still get up and be groggy with a crackling voice and do a play the next night and then do it all over again. I could be lax with my physical regimen. Now, this is nothing short of an athlete's life. I have to eliminate everything - all of the vices that everybody sort of enjoys all the way down to caffeine. There's no alcohol, no caffeine - sleep, for me, is like an important business meeting. Seven and a half hours at least, and that's the most important thing.

"I warm up for forty minutes before the show and I cool down my voice for 20 minutes after the show. It really is like an athletic pursuit and so my whole life has to be built around that."

The play tells the story of The Four Seasons from the beginning of the band to their rise and fall. Even though it contains so many songs, the play is more of a drama with music than a pure musical. This is why an actor like Young, who has been in several dramatic works, can do so well with the role.

"I think the reason someone like me who has a background in drama can function so well in this 'musical' is because it functions as a play first," he explained. "The story is primary. It's the dramatic story of the Four Seasons and their rise to to the top. The songs are secondary. When you place the story first you're going to attract actors first and singers second. A lot of people who populate musicals think of themselves as singers first - this is not that kind of cast."

Young says that he knew many of the songs before taking the role because these are such popular hits that it's hard not to have heard them somewhere. While doing research for his role, he read articles on the band and played their records non-stop for months before the first rehearsal. A key move was talking with Frankie Valli's good friend and bandmate Bob Guadio instead of Mr. Valli himself.

"I figured if I talked with Frankie Valli's best friend and lifelong business partner I would get more of an objective view of who Frankie Valli is than if I talked to Frankie Valli himself," said Young. "Often times, our friends will describe us with far more candor than we'll describe ourselves. I think we always have an agenda to protect our own image."

Young never did talk with Frankie Valli before the show started, but he did pay him a visit. He saw Mr. Valli perform live at the Flamingo in Las Vegas one night (unbeknownst to Mr. Valli). At the time, Young had just been offered the role and didn't want to jinx his first Broadway job. So he just watched him on stage and took notes on napkins, gathering more information for his character.

The play had originally made its debut at The La Jolla Playhouse in California the year before. As luck would have it for Young, several of the original cast members of that production were not available for the move to Broadway. Thus, his breakout role became available. And less than two months after landing it, Young found himself on Broadway.com's "Ones to Watch" list for the 2005-2006 Broadway season.

But the crazy ride of the past year was just beginning for Young. Since the show started, the cast and John have been profiled in Reader's Digest; performed at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on live television;appeared on television programs like Live at 5, CNN's Showbiz Tonight, The Today Show, and The David Letterman Show; was nominated for Broadway.com's Star of the Year; and chosen by The New York Times as one of the "Celestial Star Turns" of 2005. And, of course, was added to Sardi's lineup of stars. When asked, he's hard pressed to pick one as more exciting than the others.

"In the beginning, people didn't know what to make of the show because they thought it was going to be another jukebox show," said Young. "And the only people we really had in the beginning were die hard Four Seasons fans, who didn't care what the show would be like, and theatre people who were sort of skeptical because they've been burned so many times in the past by bad catalog shows. And now, the anticipation that you can see on the audience's face when the show starts... I remember a woman in the front row last week that raised her hands over her mouth everytime we would sing a Four Seasons song. She was just so delighted to see this story come alive.

"The buzz is so great about the show now that the audience is more excited than they were when we opened. That's probably been the most exciting thing for me - to see how it's developing into a cultural phenomenon. It's not just a good show anymore.

"I've been in good shows before and it's great to get standing ovations and to have people ask for your autograph and all that stuff. That's always fun, but seeing this show and what we're doing turn into a cultural phenomenon is something else!"

As great as this ride has been, eventually Young will move on to another role. He has six months left on his contract and will have to make a decision then, but he knows that there will be a time to move on.

"I wouldn't like to do it forever!" laughs Young. "I would much rather be working really hard at something I love in a great part than sitting around in my boxers on the couch waiting for the phone to ring for that next big audition; however, I am an actor and my life blood is playing characters and my greatest desire is to play new characters. So there will come a point when I really want to play a new character, but for the time being I'm really happy where I am."

He might even be happier in May when the Tony nominations come out. Something tells me this story has many more chapters to write.



For more by this author, click here






Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.
Pebble Players Presents "Heathers, the Musical: High School Edition"
(SUMMIT, NJ) -- Celebrating their 10th season, Pebble Players has been entertaining Summit residents and audiences from surrounding towns with sophisticated Off-Broadway quality performances. The 2018 Season opens with "Heathers The Musical: High School Edition," directed by Jayne Myers and choreographed by Jaimie Woodruff.  Performances are Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17 at 7:30pm and Sunday, November 18 at 2:00pm. 
NJPAC Presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies
(NEWARK, NJ) -- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies from Thursday, March 21, 2019 - Saturday, March 23, 2019. The high-style music of “The Duke” is the heart and soul of this 1981 Tony-winning Broadway hit, directed with dazzle by André De Shields (The Wiz). Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington, re-creates the original show’s elegant dancing and tapping as choreographer.
Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater present Teahouse by Lao She
(PRINCETON, NJ) --Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present Teahouse by Lao She on November 16, 17 and 18 at 8:00pm and November 17 at 2:00pm in the Donald G. Drapkin Studio at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. Teahouse is considered a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese theater, spanning 50 years in modern Chinese history from the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Republican Revolution to the birth of the People’s Republic, bringing together over sixty characters who represent all walks of life. The production is directed by senior Changshuo Liu.
Axelrod's Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program Presents "Peter Pan"
(OCEAN TOWNSHIP, NJ) --  A family musical that’s perfect for the holiday season, “Peter Pan” is flying onto the Axelrod stage December 8-16. Axelrod’s award-winning Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts program presents one of Broadway’s timeless classics in a fully staged production directed by Lisa Goldfarb with musical direction by Randy Hurst and choreography by Wendy Roman.  


Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
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The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
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See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
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"It's a Blast!" Go See Rock of Ages 10th Anniversary Tour NOW! at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino!
The five-time Tony award-nominated Broadway musical, Rock of Ages, returns to the stage with a 10th Anniversary Tour at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino! Performed in the venue’s ultra-modern Sound Waves theater, Rock of Ages runs from now until November 4, 2018.
There's One In Every Family: "Charley's Aunt" at The Shakespeare Theatre
On stage now through November 18 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, “Charley’s Aunt” is described as “part Oscar Wilde, part ‘Fawlty Towers,’ with a dash of South American spice!” This side-splitting British farce from 1892 has drag, mistaken identity, romance and plenty of physical comedy. Join Jesse and Dave at rehearsals in Florham Park to hear from the cast and director what makes this such a hilarious and enduring show.






Event calendar
Thursday, Nov 15, 2018


MUSIC

New Politics @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 8:00pm

THE REPUTATIONS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

TOTO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


THEATRE

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

ANNIE, The Musical @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 7:30pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 7:30pm

Spring Awakening: The Rock Musical @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm







DANCE

PARSONS DANCE @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm


FILM

Crybaby Matinee: March of the Penguins @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

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