Fans in NYC have been waiting for nearly a year since John Lloyd Young, who was scheduled for a six-night engagement at Feinstein’s/54 Below from March 17-22, 2021, had that appearance postponed three times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now the Tony and Grammy award-winning star – renowned for his role as The Four Seasons’ lead singer Frankie Valli in both the original Broadway cast of the iconic jukebox musical Jersey Boys and Clint Eastwood’s Warner Bros. movie adaptation – will make his highly anticipated return to the stage of the popular New York City supper club this month for a week of live in-person performances. And this time he will present not one, but two different concerts, along with a one-night-only livestream.
In John Lloyd Young: Broadway’s Jersey Boy, audiences can enjoy a celebration of classic hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s presented in the authentic acoustic style of the original rock ‘n’ roll, Doo-Wop, and R&B standards. Along with tracks from Young’s critically acclaimed debut album My Turn, the show features such chart-toppers by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons as “Sherry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” and “In the Still of the Night,” along with favorites from Roy Orbison, The Platters, the Righteous Brothers, Paul McCartney, Adele, Luther Vandross, Little Anthony, Elvis, Tom Jones, and more.
For his appearance on Saturday, January 29 only, Young will present a special encore of his hit show John Lloyd Young’s Broadway, interpreting the showstoppers that shaped his earliest Broadway aspirations. Accompanied by Tommy Faragher on piano, he will perform a selection of songs from Jersey Boys, The Wiz, Chicago, Hair, Dreamgirls, and more, along with classics by legendary Broadway writers, including Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein, and Loesser. The concert will also be livestreamed as part of the venue’s virtual series Live from Feinstein’s/54 Below. Designed to make more shows accessible to fans around the globe and to recreate the live concert experience, the show will be presented exclusively at the time of performance with an in-house audience and will not be available on demand afterwards.
I spoke with John Lloyd from his home in California, before making the trip east to NYC for his cabaret series, to get some of his personal feelings about the show and his thoughtful and passionate insights into the music he loves.
I know you’ve been keeping busy during the pandemic. What have been some of the highlights of the past year and a half?
JLY: Since last we spoke, early in that trajectory, I began to collaborate with a friend in Las Vegas, where we brought cameras and equipment into The Space. It was just me, my musical director Tommy Faragher, and a skeleton crew, with no audience. Tommy and I drove in separately to Vegas, everyone involved there was masked, we maintained social distance, and we streamed the concerts. They were successful; the audiences responded. Eventually Feinstein’s in Los Angeles started streaming our concerts, too, and we moved to a hybrid of streaming concerts performed in front of a live audience, when things started to open again.
As things began to open up even more, we opened totally to live audiences. So I guess the main highlight for me was finding a way to perform for people, both in person and virtually. The second highlight was that every six weeks I had to have a new show, so I was writing new set lists with different songs, to be able to do viable new concerts for people to watch in a pandemic. And the third is coming up! Our week at 54 Below will be my first time back in New York since this all started.
What made you decide to offer two different concerts for your return to Feinstein’s/54 Below next week?
We had promised Feinstein’s in New York that we would do a ‘60s classics song set including Jersey Boys, where my career started. But for one special night, since we’re returning to the heart of Broadway at a very difficult time, when the industry and audiences have been so seriously affected by the pandemic, I felt I should be singing Broadway songs.
Of course, there’s always Broadway in my shows; at the very least, always some songs from Jersey Boys. But this time – because not everyone has had the experience or access of growing up or being in New York, and with COVID, travel has been restricted, tourism is down – people everywhere can have the feeling of being in that space, like a fly on the wall, to enjoy something Broadway from the heart of Broadway. That’s the purpose of this streaming concert.
Do you have any other surprises in store for the audience?
Yes, each night I’m going to have the audience choose the set list of songs that I’ll perform for the next show. But it’s Vegas style, and Vegas is not a democracy – you roll the dice! I’ve selected my favorite set lists that I developed during the pandemic and put them in a hat. Then I let someone in the front row pull one out, and that’s what I’m going to sing the following night.
What do you find most appealing about the popular music of the ‘50s and ‘60s?
I’m a natural live singer, and that’s not a skill that’s as necessary now in the studio. My influence from the beginning was Frank Sinatra, and then professionally as a singer, Frankie Valli. When people see me outside of Jersey Boys, they want to hear songs from that period. And for that generation of singers – Frankie Valli was also inspired by Sinatra – when they were singing, they couldn’t hide behind technology. With the music of that era, you had to hit the notes, sound good, sing live reliably over and over without pre-recording or tech, and you had to capture the integrity of the lyrics to convey the story. It’s about hitting the notes, sure, but also bringing new depth to a pop song by “getting under the lyrics” and connecting with the material for real, for fans of that generation and for a new audience. If you feel it, you can bring it.
Even though Frankie’s contemporaries were singing contemporary post-war music that was fifteen to twenty years after what we call “standards,” they brought that same integrity, vocal ability, and approach, but in a new exciting style – R&B, Doo-Wop, Blue-Eyed Soul, by artists like Little Anthony, the Righteous Brothers, Roy Orbison (who was almost operatic), in hits like “Hurt So Bad,” “Unchained Melody,” “Only You.” These are great songs; you can move people with both the sound and the content. And the artists, like Little Anthony, who’s a friend (his version of “Hurt” is one of my favorites), are honored and happy that we’re keeping their songs alive. I have a passionate feeling about them – Ben Brantley wrote about what I did in Jersey Boys as “personal cris de coeur” (“cries of the heart”). I can sing this period and really well, I have the choice of what to sing in my own concerts, and I have the opportunity to treat these classics as standards. I’m respecting them; they shouldn’t be lost. Why shouldn’t audiences hear them? That’s my purpose, my contribution, and my signature – all the greats of that period – and I’m doubling down on that.
What is it about 54 Below, and NYC, that keeps you coming back?
I’m a New Yorker by heritage; my great-grandparents were immigrants from Sicily, who built the bridges. The house they built is still there in Queens and they created the opportunity for someone in their family eventually to become a Broadway star, so being in New York is always meaningful for me. And the owners of 54 Below, who produced the original and the Off-Broadway production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe, featuring the music of Leiber and Stoller, have also supported me and the songs I love from the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s very intimate, it’s like a living room concert, so I’m very excited about returning.
We’re taking every precaution we can take, and so long as I can maintain my health, I’m going to do it. I’ll show up for whoever shows up and give it my all. It’s that Bojangles quote, “I’ll give the same performance for ten people as 10,000.” Human beings are meant to come together; it’s about congregation and community, and there’s no better way to do it than with live performances. It’s what I do and I’m going to do it!
Thanks, John Lloyd, for a fabulous conversation; it was truly a pleasure to catch up with you. I can’t wait to see you live next week in NYC!
John Lloyd Young: Broadway’s Jersey Boy plays January 25-28 and 30, at 7pm, and John Lloyd Young’s Broadway plays and streams live on January 29, 7 pm, at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, cellar, NYC. For in-person tickets (priced at $75-155, with an additional food and beverage minimum of $25 per person), call (212) 864-5400, or go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a valid photo ID to enter the building. For tickets to the livestream (priced at $25, plus an additional ticketing fee of $3.50), click here.