UPDATE: Following the success of his October livestream concert discussed below, it was just announced that John Lloyd Young will return to The Space, Las Vegas with John Lloyd Young’s Vegas Holiday on Friday, December 4, at 6 PM PT. For pay-per-view tickets to the 75-minute virtual concert (priced at $30) or the concert and VIP after-party ($100, including a talk-back, holiday surprises, and an encore performance beginning at 7:45 pm), go online. The concert will be available On-Demand for one week following the live performance.
In 2006, John Lloyd Young became the only American actor to date to receive the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theatre World Awards in a Broadway debut as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical, for his highly acclaimed performance as The Four Seasons frontman Frankie Valli in the quintessential jukebox musical Jersey Boys. He went on to sing the lead vocals on the Platinum Grammy-winning original cast album, to star in London’s 2014 West End production, and to reprise his role on the big screen in the Warner Bros. film adaptation of the show, directed by Clint Eastwood and released later that same year. In addition, his five-star-rated solo R&B album My Turn . . . debuted as a best-seller on Amazon, and he was appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities by Barack Obama.
As a concert artist, Young has brought his soaring tenor, rich falsetto, and repertory of classic pop chart-toppers and show tunes to sold-out rooms and legions of adoring fans. He has played The White House, the US Embassy in Finland, The Hollywood Bowl, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, New York’s Café Carlyle, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and New Year’s Eve in Times Square, among other famed venues and events. And he is scheduled for six nights back in NYC, from March 17-22, 2021, at Feinstein’s/54 Below, with John Lloyd Young: Broadway’s Jersey Boy – a celebration of the vintage hits of rock ‘n’ roll, Doo-Wop, and R&B from the ‘50s and ‘60s, in their authentic acoustic style. The cabaret concert will feature tracks from Young’s critically acclaimed debut album, “Sherry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” “In the Still of the Night,” treasures from Roy Orbison, The Platters, the Righteous Brothers, Paul McCartney, Adele, Luther Vandross, Little Anthony, Elvis, Tom Jones, and other pop sensations.
But fans don’t have to wait till the spring to see Young in New York. On Saturday, October 3, the star of stage, screen, and the recording studio will present John Lloyd Young’s Broadway, his second livestream concert from The Space in Las Vegas, available online to viewers everywhere. Accompanied on piano by Tommy Faragher (his music director, producer, and co-writer since 2012), the long-time collaborators will perform a set-list of favorites from Jersey Boys, The Wiz, Les Mis, Chicago, and Hair, standards by Broadway legends Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein, and Loesser, and more. Following the 80-minute live concert, the virtual event will continue in a post-show experience filled with surprises, moderated by The Space founder Mark Shunock. The after-party will include an encore performance by John Lloyd and Tommy, sharing never-before-heard tracks from their brand-new album-in-progress, and a lively Q&A talk-back with questions solicited in advance from audience members.
John Lloyd called in from LA to talk with me about his upcoming concerts, what he loves most about the songs he sings, and the impact of COVID-19 on the performing arts – which has become very immediate and personal with the death of Tommy DeVito, one of the original founding members of The Four Seasons, on Monday, September 21, at age 92, from the coronavirus.
I’m sorry to hear about Tommy’s passing. Did you know him?
John: Yes, not as well as Frankie [Valli] or Bob [Gaudio], who was the most hands-on with the show. But Tommy was involved in the beginning and I met him several times, and I got to hear his stories about all of the hijinks and Mafia connections and the trouble he got into, which didn’t come out publicly till later. The coronavirus is terrible, but it helps to remember that Tommy had a long life and many successes.
What safety precautions and pandemic protocols are being taken for your on-site performance at The Space?
The Space used to be 50 Cent’s Recording Studio. It’s near the Strip, but not directly on it, and it’s not attached to a casino, so there isn’t a lot of foot traffic unless there’s a live in-person show. It feels like a sound stage when all the seats are removed, which is what they’re doing for the livestream. There’s no audience – it’s not allowed yet in Las Vegas – and there will be only six people inside, all socially distanced. For this performance it will just be my pianist and me, and then there will be the tech team, doing the sound, lighting, and camerawork, so it’s a very limited number. And we’ll be driving in from LA, not flying in, so we will avoid plane travel; it’s a fun drive, we enjoy it. Once we arrive, we won’t be staying at a hotel on the Strip, we’ll be off-site, at an extended-stay suite, so there won’t be a lot of contact with other people.
Mark, who hosts the show and created the series, also works with ESPN, so he knows all of the protocol very well and follows it. I played The Space before, on July 25, and it was fine, but one of the other fifteen concerts that had been scheduled in the livestream series had to be cancelled at the last minute, when a band member tested positive for COVID. But that’s the best thing for the audience about a livestream; it’s disappointing that the show didn’t go on, but no one was exposed, or had to travel from a distance to see it; they were watching from home and the ticket price was simply refunded.
What are you most looking forward to about returning to the stage?
It’s the oldest but the truest answer: the connection with the audience. I know my fans, I recognize the ones who attend my concerts, and I feel their presence, even when they’re not there. I’m an actor, so I’m really going to believe that they’re there! My bread-and-butter has been intimate concerts in small rooms, like the Carlyle in NY, and in many ways the livestream will be like playing to a close-up audience. On Broadway, the cliché is that you have to play to the back row, so everyone in the house can hear and feel your performance. With the livestream camera, you play to the front row, like in a club.
What do you miss about being in the same room with your fans?
That give and take. But I’ve done so many shows and been in that situation so many times, that I’m still going to feel it. Part of what makes it work is that it’s live and will still have all the production values of a club concert, but it’s in the fans’ own homes, so it will be, in some ways, even more intimate. I’ll quote-unquote “sing to the front row,” and like an actor doing a phone call scene, I imagine the audience reactions on the other end and allow for them.
Do you have a favorite song in the show that you always love singing?
“Unchained Melody” without a doubt; it’s got such a great build and the audience goes crazy for it. This concert at The Space is a love letter to Broadway, but I still shoe-horned the song into it, because it was in Ghost: The Musical, so I could fit it with the theme.
Is your favorite song the same one that audiences consistently respond to the most?
Yes, and that’s often a surprise because it isn’t a song from Jersey Boys. But there is never a time when I don’t include at least a few songs from Jersey Boys – the audience wouldn’t stand for it! It would be like Patti LuPone doing a concert and not singing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”
Is there one moment in your career to date that stands out as the highlight?
No, because I’ve had an embarrassment of riches. A presidential appointment that came out of the blue, a Tony Award, having Clint Eastwood in our audience at Jersey Boys and getting the movie role without even having to audition – those are just three off the top of my head. I’m really grateful for so many great moments in my career and hoping there will be many more!
What are your expectations for the March run scheduled at Feinstein’s/54 Below?
I’m holding out hope to be able to do it. They say you’re doing well as a performer if you “kill your audience,” but not literally! I love my fans and will wait for it to be safe. If the show can’t go on, I’ll wait for the people there to ask me about the possibility of a livestream, because there are a lot of regulations for that. We’re all inventing this as we go along, we’re not experts; there’s a learning curve, and we’ll get better at it. In some ways, livestreams are like live TV in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s a real-time experience, but stuff can go off the rails! There’s nothing like being in the room when the lights go down, it’s unparalleled, but going virtual is as close as we can get to it for now. It gives performers a lifeline, and it provides entertainment and a lift for audiences. We have to support the people we love in the performing arts, as well as the people who are fans of the performers.
Do you have any words of advice to help us all to get through this difficult and uncertain time?
I do have an idea that’s kind of sci-fi on how to bring back in-person shows: all of the audience members should wear space helmet bubbles around their heads! I don’t know how that would work for the cast, though, especially for romantic scenes with kissing.
In some ways, the pandemic hiatus isn’t completely unusual; there are always slow periods for actors, and when you’re not working, it can be tough, because you know there’s a party going on somewhere, but you’re not invited. With the coronavirus, we’re all in it together, so no one should feel like they’re not at the party because they’re not good enough, or the right type, or whatever performers tend to think when they’re not working.
I’d like to say to our younger readers, students, and aspiring performers that I understand – as Langston Hughes wrote – their dreams have been deferred. The pandemic is definitely a set-back, but sometimes a set-back is the best time to study and to learn things that will help when it’s over. When I first moved to NYC at the beginning of my career, I took a temp job with an investment bank, and I thought it was the worst thing ever! But I was reading books and getting information about finance and advertising and the stock market, so I was able to make the good decision to start buying into Apple in 2006 – and that’s been a big help now, with the shutdown of theaters and the loss of work. When you’re doing a show, you don’t have time for any of that, but when you’re not, you can read up on how others you admire got started, you can sharpen your own skills, and charge yourself up with the things that will make it easier when you get going again in the pursuit of your career.
Theater artists need to stay strong and healthy, because people will need us to re-animate the country when this is over, to help rebuild it. We can help, as they say, rebuild the soul of this downtrodden nation.
Many thanks, John Lloyd, for a terrific chat; it was a pleasure. Looking forward to the Vegas show, and to your return to NYC in 2021!
John Lloyd Young’s Broadway streams live on Saturday, October 3, 2020, 6 pm ET (3 pm PT), from The Space, Las Vegas. For pay-per-view tickets to the virtual concert (priced at $30) or the concert and VIP after-party ($100, with the party beginning at 7:45 pm), go online. The concert will be available On-Demand for one week following the live performance.