John Lloyd Young shot to fame portraying Frankie Valli, but this weekend he’ll be using a technology to reach fans that was unfathomable in the 1960s. Young, a 1993 graduate of Plattsburgh High School, will perform a live-stream concert from The Space in Las Vegas on Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern. Young is a Grammy and Tony winner who starred in “Jersey Boys” on Broadway and in Clint Eastwood’s film adaption, among other screen credits.
Young has performed in many languages and in places like the White House, Congress and beyond.
What have the past few months been like for you? Given the pandemic and all the limitations on live performance.
I'll tell you it's been pretty harrowing , well for all of us, but especially here, you know, we were one of the places that went on complete lockdown. You know, obviously for good reasons, but what, what an adjustment and it came out of nowhere, no one expected this. One of the most shocking things, even for me, you know, I've been in the entertainment business years and years now. And so, you always expect that there could be unemployment, that's part of life as an entertainer, to have it wiped off the map for at least a year or more, across the world. And, you know, there's no Broadway show open. There's no- One of the things that you do as an actor or an artist or a singer is you're always aware of when your peers who are working when you're not. It's a weird feeling now, all these, you know, it's weird feelings. The first time in my career to know that none of us are. And, um, you know, there's, there's people who just live to perform, and they need to have an audience and I haven't always been spoiled that way. You know, when you do a movie, you don't see the audience at all.
So I haven't always, you know, be able to rely on having a live audience. But the last couple of years I, that's mostly was doing was live concerts and to just watch it disappear was pretty scary. And I think the only consolation is that we're all in the same boat. So you know, you look around everybody, you know, you can consult each other. And the audience too, is without, without someplace to go. You know, sports audiences. Look Ian, I don't have answers. It's just been very strange and confusing, which is why I'm glad that I'm able to do, you know, a live-stream concert on Saturday. I haven't worked since the beginning of March, to get out and do another concert, is, it's gonna be a great feeling for me and I think probably for audiences in home too.
How have you been spending your time? Are there things you're doing to make sure you're keeping your voice in shape and things like that even though you can't perform?
I have really healthy natural singer habits, which is just the regular way I live my life is everything that you should do if you want to be a great singer. So I do a lot of exercising, stretching, yoga, kind of stuff. My diet is, you know, what they teach you in first grade that you should eat, you know, everything is really healthy. I'm not the kind of guy that if bars were open would be going to a loud place and yelling. I live kind of a solitary life. I spend a lot of time at home. I do artwork. That's what I've been doing this time, pivoted back into my art career, which is another side of my career that I have. But I was so busy with concerts last several years that I kind of lost touch with that. So I've been doing that, sort of full force now. And the concert will be, for me, an anomaly last few months.
So I was preparing to speak with you, and I've noticed in other interviews you talked about how kind of surprising it was for your father who was in the Air Force, and that was the connection to Plattsburgh, that you wanted to end up going into acting and the theater. What was your childhood like? And you know, how did you get out of Plattsburgh to go to bigger places, New York and LA, and so on?
You know, my mother was from New York City was, you know, Italian-American, New York, New York girl. And so I had connections to New York from when I was a really little kid and, and always was drawn to Broadway and the excitement of the city. A lot of the influences that I've had growing up were, you know, Hollywood movies and things like that. So just always very exciting world for me, and also, when you're in the military family, you move around a lot. It's nice to have something that anchors you from place to place and for me, you know, post or- Pre-Internet, Finding a theatre company, or a place to do a play, or whatever, or chorus to join or whatever, and each new place that we would move to was the kind of way to ground myself and, and deal with the disruption of moving around and having to make new friends. So for me theater and drama, drama and art, and music, and all that stuff was a new entry point for each community.
When I lived in Plattsburgh, and I think the store is still there, I'm not sure but there was a bookstore, the Cornerstone Bookshop, it was a used bookstore, and I would spend hours and hours in those stacks and the used drama section and, and, you know, reading books, buying and reading books of plays and things about New York theater and kind of dreaming of the big city and, and so it was sort of natural that, you know, when I grew up and went out on my own, that I would gravitate toward one of those entertainment capitals. For me it happened to be in New York, and then LA came later, that's where I live now.
And you spent time in the building where WAMC's North Country Bureau, our News Bureau, is, at Mountain Lake PBS, 1 Sesame Street in Plattsburgh. What kind of show did you do? And how were you drawn to that?
That was my first- So I had, you know, we all have family situations where, you know, with step-parents or whatever- In my situation, I ended up with three sets of grandparents, war-era grandparents, right? Who all were very big into Frank Sinatra and that sort of era that of singers. And of course, Frank Sinatra, is so identified with New York City and New Jersey. And, and so I had a very strong interest as a youngster, and I was very influenced by that. A strong interest in Sinatra and standard songs and everything, and as people who know that era know that a lot of those songs came from Broadway and New York shows that in that period. So when I was at WCFE, it was my first professional job ever and in kind of situation that could be, you know, explained as entertainment or media or whatever. And I was an announcer I worked on Sunday mornings, I covered the Sunday morning air shift for four hours every Sunday. And the station director let me put together a show that celebrated American popular song and some Broadway, mostly Frank Sinatra at that time, Harry Connick Jr. was a, becoming a big deal then and, and so I did standards and popular song.
And it was really rewarding because I was a 16 year old kid, I'd go in and I will put on my sonorous, you know, really low radio baritones: "This is WCFE FM 91.9." It wasn't really my voice, but I thought it sounded cool. And, and so I did our show there that ran for about a year it was called "On and Off Broadway", and it was standards and Broadway music that I liked. And because of where WCFE is, and Plattsburgh's proximity to Montreal, I actually got- I was 16, I got fan letters from, from listeners and in Montreal, in the big city, who were so happy to be hearing standards and Broadway music on the radio. There was no Sirius XM Broadway station then, obviously. So it was a pretty unique thing for that part of the state. And it was really rewarding for me. And of course, I was living vicariously through this music and ultimately ended up being one of the people making that music for, for a Broadway show and in a big way. So I guess it was a precursor or a foreshadowing of what was going to come.
What will your show on Saturday be like? Because people obviously are limited and attending, it's a live-stream. Is it going to be strange for you without the audience there? Do you thrive on that personal connection?
Well, oddly enough, this place, I've played to live audiences several times. There's several reasons why I'll be able to imagine the audience there. One is because just with this particular theater that I played. The way that the lights are is that it's very difficult for me to see the people in the audience, even in the front row. So first of all, it's already difficult for me to see people there when I'm, when they are there, when it's full. So there's gonna be easy for me to imagine that it's a regular night of playing there. I think it's going to be my sixth time there. So that's experience with that. But also another kind of funny anecdote is that, even though I got my start on Broadway with, obviously, live audiences, when I did the Jersey Boys movie with Clint Eastwood. Clint Eastwood comes from television, and Clint Eastwood understands economies of scale very well. He does not like to waste money. And so many, many of those scenes where we as the Four Seasons, or me as Frankie, as a solo artist, is playing to an audience. We have maybe one fifth of the theater filled with extras, but then the rest were literally inflatable mannequins. Or CGIed in later. So a lot of, a lot of those scenes, of, you know, I was performing for, not a real audience, but for a crew of just the camera people, whatever, which is what's going to happen on Saturday.
Look, it's my first time doing this and a lot of people are learning, this is a new thing, because of COVID, to do these virtual concerts. But I still have a feeling that it's gonna feel, for me like, like it's a full room. The only person in the audience is going to be my pianist's wife. You know, whatever, we're gonna make it work. I'm just going to ask her to clap extra loud. So people who have never seen me before, many people obviously, and for the rest of my career are going to know me just from "Jersey Boys" first, so always there'll be "Jersey Boys" in my sets, because I don't ever want to alienate someone who comes out of curiosity because they love "Jersey Boys". There's always going to be Four Seasons in my sets, a nice amount, so nobody will ever feel disappointed. But in being able to sing such a classic wonderful singer like Frankie Valli, who has such an expansive range, you know, that opens up all of these other great songs for me as a singer.
So I have found over several years since, you know, playing Frankie on Broadway, now maybe 15 years ago- I don't want to I don't want to count. But, you know, all these years since I've learned that my natural area of expertise as a live singer is sort of in the R&B area, or that they used to call it 'blue eyed soul'. So think like, Tom Jones, Gene Pitney, but I like to sing- And I've made friends with some of these guys. I like to sing Little Anthony songs. I know Little Anthony, we're friends. Mel Carter. I like a lot of those really great, soulful, older songs and it might be ethnic too, because I'm Welsh on my dad's side, and I'm Italian on my mother's side. We all know Italian singers have reputation for being very emotional, but when you think Welsh singers, you think of Shirley Bassey and then Tom Jones and you couldn't be any more emotional than them, right?
So, but I've also chosen a set list of classic wonderful songs, a couple of them are original, that are very influenced by R&B and those great songs. But I've chosen because of the COVID period, we're not gonna do a lot of sad songs. I'm choosing that if it's- It's either going to be energetic songs, rousing songs, or at least very, if it's a ballad, it's going to be very exciting. Because I feel like right now I need it and maybe we all do. We need the kind of a break from the worry and the bleakness and to just feel kind of, have our souls kind of energized, a B12 shot of energy, and that's what I hope to bring to the concert on Saturday,
Since you brought it up, I do have a question about your portrayal of Frankie Valli in the Jersey Boys movie. You had done the Broadway show, originated the role and gone back to it a few times. Obviously, you knew Frankie Valli, you knew the part. When you transitioned from stage to screen, did you change anything in your approach as an actor, knowing that it would be a movie instead of a show?
Yes, because the camera's right in front of your face, sometimes literally. And as you know, you know, most people in your listenership have seen a Broadway show or, or one of the touring companies that comes to their town or whatever. So, most people know what it's like to be sitting very far away and see an actor on a stage. In order to convey certain things you have to project onto- You can't necessarily see the subtlety of their facial expressions. So the actor has to project certain ways and the audience has to project onto what they're seeing, the emotions, that sort of stuff. Well, when you're on camera, all you have to do is think it, and they, and you can see it. So, so the, the process of playing Frankie Valli on camera and I knew from just- You know, I didn't have a lot of experience on camera before Jersey Boys, but I had enough to know that the performance would be more about letting audiences sort of see into him and see into, into his psychology. And that, that would be the main difference is that you get to know a little bit more how he thinks. As opposed to just watching, you know his career speed by you, because "Jersey Boys" on stage is like on a treadmill. It's very fast, it speeds by- More time for the character to breathe and more time for you to understand him as a person.
Do you have a favorite off your album "My Turn" that you'd like us to play on the way out here?
If you're in the mood for something exuberant, one of people's favorite tracks from that album is "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me," the Mel Carter, the guy I referred to, Mel Carter before, that's his song that I sing in my concerts and people get really actually kind of ticked off if I don't sing it in the concert. So I think that means it's a favorite.
You can learn more about the concert that's coming up Saturday night at thespacelv.com. And we've been speaking with John Lloyd Young, a pleasure having you on the show and it's nice to talk about your old days in Plattsburgh with you. Thanks so much for taking all this time.
Thank you, Ian, and best of luck, blessings to all of you during this difficult time. Let's find ways like this concert and other things to relax and energized and make yourself strong for the future. We're going to need to be strong.