A Tony winner for playing Frankie Valli on Broadway, Young explains why he reprises the role in the film and closes the show with a performance of a Four Seasons mega hit.
Actor-singer John Lloyd Young
Tavis: For anyone of a certain age, the name Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons conjures up a whole lot of good times, I suspect. The story of that band became a Broadway blockbuster starring John Lloyd Young who won a Tony for his performance as Valli.
Now he’s reprising that role in the movie version of “Jersey Boys” which has just opened nationwide. John Lloyd Young will perform one of the group’s hits as a close to this show tonight, thankfully for us.
Before we start our conversation, though, a look first at a scene from “Jersey Boys” directed by one Clint Eastwood.
Tavis: So these days, it’s either a movie becomes a Broadway hit or a Broadway hit becomes a movie. What do you make of that?
John Lloyd Young: It seems like less often a Broadway hit becomes a movie nowadays.
Young: Especially this season on Broadway. A lot of Hollywood to Broadway adaptations. I think it’s great when a good Broadway show makes it to the screen and when it makes it to the screen well. And certainly I know how rare it is for someone who originates a Broadway show to make it onto the screen, so I feel very privileged that I got to do it.
Tavis: I want to talk more about your role in just a second, John. But what do you think it is about this story that makes it right to go the other way?
You’re right. You know, there are very few Broadway hits that become movies of late, a lot of movies that are becoming Broadway shows. But what do you think makes this one right for the big screen?
Young: I think that this movie and the show onstage are sort of, let’s say if it had started as a movie, it would be in the tradition of maybe The Doors or Ray, a biopic about a band. Because it started on stage, it could only have been classified as a musical, but the way that it is structured is more of a biopic on the stage.
It’s a story of a band that none of the songs sort of masquerade as scenes. The songs are sung in the recording studio because the bands were singing in a recording studio. Or you hear a song on stage in a concert because the band was giving a concert then.
None of the songs are ever – you know, they didn’t take “Sherry Baby” and have us sing it to a girl named Sherry. It was just a song on, you know, in the case of the movie, on, I think The Ed Sullivan Show.
So I think that’s the major difference between this and your traditional Broadway musical and I think that that’s why it translates so well to the screen.
Tavis: How did you process being given the opportunity to do this on film?
Young: Well, I really was floored when I found out that I got the chance to do it because I – clearly, if you originate a Broadway show and there’s a lot of attention around it and I’m on the cast album, you know, it was a little uncomfortable hearing the movie was happening and considering the idea that I have to go through the rest of my life watching someone else take that baton and carry it forward for posterity on film. There’s a historical significance of being able to translate your stage.
Most people will see the movie, not the stage play over history. And so I’m really glad that those people who see the movie will have a taste of what the original Broadway production was, at least in my performance.
Tavis: When you say a taste, what do you mean by just a taste?
Young: Well, because it’s not the complete original cast from the Broadway show. So really there’s only a few, maybe a million, people who saw that original Broadway cast on that original Broadway stage. And now 19 million people have seen the stage production in some incarnation across the English speaking world.
But certain performances, you know, like Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady” or even Joel Grey in “Cabaret,” those performances were before my time, the stage performances.
So I heard my grandparents talking about these great Broadway performances growing up and the only reference I had for what that must have been like was the movie that retained the star from the stage.
So that was something that meant a lot to me my whole life and to find out that I would be able to take the essence of that performance and put it in a more permanent form was very meaningful to me personally.
And then Clint Eastwood, of course, every actor, I think, dreams of working with a director like him and that was a dream come true also.
Tavis: Eastwood is a great director, no doubt about it, Academy Award-winning director. I know, as others do, he’s a lover of jazz. But not the person that comes to mind in this town when I think of directing, you know, something like this per se. I don’t want to offend Mr. Eastwood. A great director can do a variety of things.
Tavis: But what was the experience like for you?
Young: Well, he saw me on stage and cast me from that stage performance. I never had to audition for him. I talked to him after the performance. He came backstage, talked to the cast. I talked to him. Next time I saw him was on his set.
And Clint Eastwood can have anyone he wants for his movies and he has the clout to say I want this person and the studio says all right. You’re Clint Eastwood. Have who you want. The fact that he wanted me was, I mean, a really huge compliment.
So when I got to his set working with him knowing that he was expecting to have that performance that he had seen on stage on his screen was, in some ways, pretty easy because he allowed me to tap this performance I knew for more than 1,000 times playing it.
Tavis: I’m glad you went there. The best research that we’ve been able to do puts the number at about 1,400 performances that you have done of Frankie Valli. There are two questions I want to ask in the two minutes I have left because I want to leave time for you to perform here.
Young: Okay, great.
Tavis: Question number one, what’s the most significant takeaway that you have from having played this same guy 1,400 times? I suspect you know Frankie Valli pretty well by now. What’s the takeaway?
Young: Yes. My takeaway is that there is something I think irresistible to an audience about an American dream character especially from working class origins. There’s something about that Italian American thing, that sound.
But also, Frankie Valli himself is a complex guy. He understands the duality of life. He understands that there’s always tragedy. Even in success, there’s still a problem somewhere in your life and the both always exist at the same time.
I remember that interview you did with Darlene Love. I mean, amazing woman, hard life.
And it comes through in the music and I think that what I take away from Frankie Valli is that his hard life somehow in a joyous way comes through in that sound and in that music.
Tavis: And finally, I have trouble keeping my own voice just doing a talk show every day. Singing falsetto 1,400 times [laugh]…
Young: Right. Well, luckily, you know, I get to sleep in between each day of performances.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah, but still, hitting this on Broadway every single night, how do you protect the instrument?
Young: Live a very clean life. No, you know, yelling in bars or drinking. It’s everything that you would expect a coach would tell an athlete to do. That’s how you have to live. And lots of sleep, lots of rest. And sometimes, you know, in the middle of a run, of a show like that, your life can become pretty dull.
But I found the days that I became absolutely so bored that I couldn’t even stand it, when I got to the theater, I had the best performance. So I’ve done a lot of reading [laugh].
Tavis: Well, the audience has loved you on Broadway and the Tony award underscores that. Now the audience at large will get a chance to see this on the big screen as “Jersey Boys” opens around the country starring one John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli.
But, fortunate for you, you get to hear him sing right about now. He’s going to perform “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” from “Jersey Boys.” So I’ll say thank you for watching. Thank you for coming on this program.
Young: So great to be here.
Tavis: Goodnight to you and, as always, keep the faith.
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