Is John Lloyd Young, back in ‘Jersey Boys’ and singing his ‘My Turn’ show at Café Carlyle, ‘just too good to be true?’
He’s come back to New York from Los Angeles for a limited run as Frankie Valli, the role that made him a star, to debut at the Carlyle with songs of the 60s – and also finds time to start a new career in sculpture, practice kung fu and to use his starpower ‘to motivate fans and friends into lending support to charity.’
By Tom Dworetzky / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, February 15, 2013, 7:53 AM
Tom Dworetzky/New York Daily News
John Lloyd Young shows just a hint of danger in his performance opening night at Cafe Carlyle.
Actually, John Lloyd Young looks a little dangerous.
He tells the opening night audience at the Café Carlyle as he performs a few songs wearing impenetrable aviator shades – so that “we can be in a cocoon, just me, you and the music” – that he would turn off the lights in the recording studio AND wear the shades while cutting his debut album of 1960s songs “My Turn.”
And then there’s his mastery of Northern Shaolin style kung fu. He is nearly a black belt. “I use it on stage,” he tells me after the Tuesday night show. The martial art helps with his focus, he says, which is evident when you are close and meet his steady, darkly penetrating gaze.
He’s approachable and friendly but seems to have just a hint of the edge of the outsider, a trace of the Frankie Valli from Jersey, maybe.
Perhaps he is still in character. He is, after all, back for a limited engagement run in “Jersey Boys” playing the Valli role that made him a star.
Young was starstruck by Broadway from the beginning. At age 2 he was singing; at age 3 he was performing.
At age 2, though, tragedy had already struck his family. He was only two years old when his mother, 26, died from cystic fibrosis.
Tom Dworetzky/New York Daily News
John Lloyd Young sings the songs of the 60s at the Cafe Carlyle with intensity.
This, he explains, is what has driven his charity work.
“My natural mother passed away from cystic fibrosis when I was a toddler, so I feel a great deal of empathy for people who are struggling with disease,“ he says. “As such, I’ve worked frequently with organizations who’ve asked for my help, such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, AIDS Project Los Angeles, Broadway Cares, amfAR and Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang.”
He feels that his popularity comes with responsibility. “During ‘Jersey Boys,’ I discovered one of the most rewarding ways to use your goodwill is to motivate fans and friends into lending support to charity.”
His love of theater not only began early, it was supported by his father and stepmother. “My interest in acting came from seeing Broadway shows on summer trips to New York as a child,” he recalls. “It was the original production of ‘A Chorus Line’ in an easy tie with the first 10-15 minutes of Dustin Hoffman in ‘Tootsie’ that hooked me on the romantic idea that the impossible, difficult life of a struggling actor was for me.”
While the life of Frankie Valli differed greatly from his own, being half Italian, on his late mother’s side, helped enormously, he says. “My natural mother’s family was Italian-American from Brooklyn” he explains. “Not too far a cry from Italian-American from Newark. The energy was easy to tap.”
His musical tastes coincided with the 1960s music he is associated with, and which is featured on, his album “My Turn,” which includes such classics as “Hurt So Bad,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Unchained Melody” and “You Belong To Me.” Despite being younger, he was exposed by his family to this music from an early age. He explains, “The songs of the 60s are, in my mind, standards just as much as the songs from the war era that we generally think of as standards. In the Sinatra era, singers all sang each other’s songs, so long as they were good songs. I’m an interpreter of songs, and these are some of the best ever written.”
Tom Dworetzky/ New York Daily News
John Lloyd Young found stardom in New York and a now makes Los Angeles his home.
Since moving to Los Angeles, he has devoted himself to his sculpture as well as his music. These changes are very much a part of who he is and where he came from, he says. “Now I’m bi-coastal and love both cities.”
“With ‘Jersey Boys’ I achieved everything an actor can hope for in New York theater, after nearly ten years of struggle in New York City,” he recalls, adding, “I always wanted to go back West, where I was born, and involve myself in some other interests I always had.”
His award-winning performance in “Jersey Boys” made that possible. “I booked ‘Les Mis’ from New York, he recalls, “and playing for a sold-out, stadium-sized audience at the famous Hollywood Bowl was unforgettable.”
Then soon after, “I was the first guest star asked to appear on “Glee,” he adds, “which we all know became huge.”
There are some other favorite moments for Young. High on the list? “It was definitely a thrill to be on Katie Couric’s final ‘Today’ show,’ he says.
And winning awards at the Tonys, Outer Critics Circle, Theatre World and Drama Desk Awards goes without saying.
Tom Dworetzky/ New York Daily News
Creating sculpture is a new avenue for John Lloyd Young’s creativity these days.
Also, “the White House was great, of course,” he notes, adding, “But the most memorable and transformational event was looking out onto Times Square at a live audience of 1 million people for Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve and knowing countless other millions were watching at home.”
Broadway fame has also given Young a chance to pursue sculpture, his other art. He set up an art studio in Los Angeles, and in the last few years sold a few dozen pieces, a dream and a thrill for him.
Young reveals that the major artistic influences that show in his rhinestone encrusted sculptures include “Warhol and Pop, clearly,” he says, “but conceptually, I draw strongly from Duchamp and his ready-mades, Jeff Koontz, obviously, and less obviously from things like Meret Oppenheim’s fur-covered teapot and the arte povera movement.”
With his return to “Jersey Boys,” the question arises, “why return, and more important, what is next for this award-winning, multitalented artist?”
Says Young, “there’s no better feeling than to re-visit such a rewarding role in front of such a loving audience. I’m thoroughly enjoying working on my recording career. As for the future, I look forward with optimism to what the universe may bring.”
In an era of managed and manufactured celebrity, that openness to chance as an artist is just a bit … dangerous.
His manager, Dona R. Miller, in the audience at the Carlyle that night, did seem a little nervous about the glasses and Young took them off after a few minutes. In the home of the late and legendary Bobby Short, maybe aviator shades worked; maybe they didn’t.
But maybe taking the risk for the sake of trying something new, dangerous or not, worked – and will keep John Lloyd artistically young forever.
You can find me on Twitter @TomByNite, where I tweet about the New York cabaret scene.