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Tony Award-winning Young ’98 remains open about new projects

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Despite starring as Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys,” the critically acclaimed Broadway show for which he garnered the 2006 Tony Award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical, John Lloyd Young ’98 still feels “like I’m a struggling actor.”

“I can’t take a front-page USA Today article and take it to the grocery store to buy groceries,” he explained, adding that he won’t be guaranteed to secure his next role until he forges a unique identity as an actor.

“Jersey Boys” is a biography of the Four Seasons, a 1960s rock band. The production won the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical as well.

Young plays the band’s lead singer. “I can relate to in a very acute way … the element of Frankie Valli’s story where he’s struggling to get his talent out into the world,” he said.

Valli goes from anonymity in blue-collar New Jersey to superstardom. Young himself was unknown on Broadway prior to the success of “Jersey Boys” and was working as an usher only a year before the show’s opening in November 2005.

Despite the slew of critical acclaim he has received, Young remains in tune with reality, adding he has been able to learn from Frankie Valli’s story.

“Even at the pinnacle of his career, (Valli was) still only as big as his last hit,” Young said.

After graduating from Brown, Young was involved in a hodgepodge of productions, playing roles that varied from a Hasidic Jewish teenager in “The Chosen” to a member of the adult ensemble in “A Christmas Carol.” He also played Tom of Warwick in “Camelot,” and he laughed about playing a 14-year-old character when he was nearly 10 years older. Performance venues included converted barns and a 30-seat theater with an exposed brick wall.

Young’s success with “Jersey Boys” seemed unlikely at the outset. He initially auditioned for a different role in the musical but was not selected to perform in the original show in California. A year after his initial rejection from “Jersey Boys,” the musical’s popularity had grown enough to bring it to Broadway. Feeling that he was “right for the role,” Young retrieved his old audition materials, tried out again, and, “six auditions later, booked the part,” he said.

Young also admits being initially biased against the production, lumping it into the trendy genre of “jukebox shows,” which he described as musicals “based on the songbooks of our parents.” These shows often lacked substantive scripts, he said.

Though “Jersey Boys” was branded as a jukebox show, it has been well-received, and its success and many awards have “legitimized” the show “as a viable member of the Broadway community,” said Young, who is one of the youngest men to receive the Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. The “Jersey Boys” Original Cast Recording recently topped the Billboard charts.

The musical production has elements of a rock show, making “Jersey Boys” incredibly popular with its audiences. “I didn’t know what (playing a rock star) was like until I had an audience,” Young said, adding he had never heard the “thrilling … roar of the audience” while rehearsing.

Young compares the intensity of singing as a rock star eight times per week to an athletic feat. “Singing is a physiological exercise,” he said, explaining that he warms up and cools down his voice after each show.

Though he has fielded many questions about his future plans, Young has maintained that he is interested in any project, in any medium, that would be artistically intriguing. He said he is unique as an actor, because, although “I’m interested in great roles, classic roles… I’m more interested in new plays.” He enjoys working actively with a playwright to “breathe life into that character for the first time,” as he is now doing with “Jersey Boys.”

Though lacking neither critical acclaim nor ambition, Young remained humble as he looked forward. “(My career) is not a linear trajectory,” he said. “There are still bumps in the road.”

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