In John Lloyd Young’s Broadway, the Tony- and Grammy-winning star of the original Broadway cast and Clint Eastwood’s Warner Bros. film adaptation of Jersey Boys proclaims that “every Broadway career starts with a dream.” He is living that dream and sharing it with his dedicated fans for four nights at 54 Below. Young’s latest cabaret concert at “Broadway’s living room” features a set list of twelve show tunes (and a blockbuster two-song encore following an ardent standing ovation at the opening packed-house performance I attended) from a selection of Broadway’s hit musicals and legendary songwriters that hold personal meaning for him and impacted the evolution of his professional life, interspersed with his fond memories of the people he met and the experiences he had along the way.
Making his way to the stage in his signature dark glasses, Young immediately launched into “So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard” from The Wiz (the biggest hit of the year he was born and winner of seven Tonys, including Best Musical), which he began in his lower register and vibrato, then closed with his spectacular soaring falsetto. He followed it with two earlier Rodgers and Hammerstein numbers – a jazzy rendition of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music that had him and the audience smiling, since he would be singing some of his favorite things in the concert; and “I Have Dreamed” from The King and I, with a big vocal ending and a sentiment that fit the night’s theme and his recollection of 1982 – noting that his grandparents were from the Bronx and Queens, so they grew up in New York during the Golden Age of Broadway and knew all the shows and songs and passed them on to him.
Accompanied throughout by music director Ron Abel on piano, Sean Harkness on guitar, Derek Nievergelt on bass, and Ray Marchica on drums (each of whose talents were highlighted in a featured solo), Young continued with old-style crooning and jazz hands on Kander and Ebb’s “All I Care About” from Chicago (currently the longest running show on Broadway) and the Beatles’ pop-style arrangement of Meredith Willson’s “Till There Was You” from The Music Man, the movie version of which he saw as a kid. Next up was the down-tempo emotion-filled ballad “My Heart Stood Still” (the title, Young told us, inspired by a close call between a truck and the cab its writers were riding in on a trip to Paris) from the 1927 revue One Dam’ Thing after Another by Rodgers and Hart, whom he considers the greatest lyricist of all time (and that comment was also personal for me, since my mother’s favorite song was “My Funny Valentine” and she played it all the time).
Young’s newly updated Broadway set list also included his deep and expressive rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Misérables, a concert version of which he did at the Hollywood Bowl in 2008, along with Brian Stokes Mitchell, to a house of 17,000 people, with the performance projected on jumbotrons (Stokes advised him to play to the camera, since everyone in the enormous venue would be watching the screens); an upbeat “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from Grease, which he dedicated to his devoted audience; and “Mean to Me” from the musical revue Ain’t Misbehavin’, a song performed by Nell Carter that led to the development of his famed falsetto (just as Frankie Valli, whom he starred as in Jersey Boys, found his high range by imitating jazz singer Rose Murphy).
Needless to say, no concert by John Lloyd Young would be complete without the iconic hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from Jersey Boys, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe. He thrilled everyone with his vocal mastery and intense passion on “My Eyes Adored You” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” the latter sung first in English, and then in Italian, after recalling that, as a teenager, he spent a lot of time at Footlight Records on East 12th Street, fascinated by its collection of foreign-language recordings of Broadway shows. He finished with a magnificent resonating rendition of “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha, in acknowledgment of what he sought and achieved with his extraordinary voice, empathetic performances, and commanding stage presence.
The thunderous applause and cheers of the audience brought Young back on stage and around the house for an encore, with his Elvis-style rocking to Bye Bye Birdie‘s “One Last Kiss”(which he imparted to several lucky fans) and ending on a sky-high note with his showstopping Jersey Boys‘ number “Sherry,” which had the crowd clapping and singing along, though no one on earth could possibly match the rich, clear, and flawless falsetto for which he is known and adored.
John Lloyd Young’s Broadway is a consummate example of his vocal and stylistic versatility, professional perfectionism, and sincere rapport with and appreciation for his followers. Aside from his stellar voice, his stories about his family and encounters with such stars as Theodore Bikel, Jerry Orbach, Clint Eastwood, Liza Minnelli, Justin Timberlake, and more make for a thoroughly engaging, intimate, and entertaining evening. If you can’t make it to the live shows at 54 Below, you can watch the real-time livestream of the concert on Saturday, starting at 7 pm (which will not be available on demand), so you have no reason to miss this outstanding artist and his homage to the Broadway dream.
Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes, without intermission.
John Lloyd Young’s Broadway plays through Saturday, November 18, 2023, at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, cellar, NYC. For tickets (priced at $15-150, plus fees and a $25 per person food/beverage minimum), go online. The performance on Saturday, November 18, 7 pm, will also be livestreamed; to purchase a ticket (priced at $25, plus fees), click here.