Singing Young’s praises

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - MOVIES - NEALA JOHN­SON

THE Bee Gees. Chicago. Fred­die Mer­cury and Queen. Frankie Valli and the Four Sea­sons. John Lloyd Young used to sing along to them all in his car.

“I knew I could sing in falsetto, but … I never would have put it on my act­ing re­sume as a spe­cial skill,” the Californian per­former said.

“Then it ac­tu­ally turned out to be the key to the most vis­i­ble role so far in my whole ca­reer.”

It was Bob Gua­dio – the youth­ful song­writer whose tunes would cat­a­pult New Jersey band The Four Sea­sons onto the charts in the early 1960s – who had the idea to cre­ate a mu­si­cal us­ing the band’s songs. It was to be kind of like Mamma Mia!, ex­cept this mu­si­cal would tell the true story of The Four Sea­sons: their be­gin­nings trad­ing har­monies un­der a street­light, time be­hind bars, mob con­nec­tions, money woes, in­fight­ing and fam­ily tragedies, and their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame re­union.

Jersey Boys first tested the boards in late 2004 in San Diego. John Lloyd Young had tried out for the role of Frankie Valli then, but didn’t get it – “An ac­tor who was older and more ex­pe­ri­enced got the part.”

But when the show made the step up to Broad­way a year later, “I kind of felt they’d be com­ing back to me”, Young said.

Jersey Boys wasn’t wel­comed onto the stage in New York with much enthusiasm. Sev­eral other “juke­box mu­si­cals” – shows cre­ated us­ing songs that were al­ready pop hits – had bombed.

Erich Ber­gen, who would go on to play Gau­dio in the first US tour­ing pro­duc­tion, first viewed the play on free tick­ets, which were be­ing handed out to try to drum up in­ter­est.

Af­ter­wards, he told a friend – “a re­ally pre­ten­tious theatre lover,” Ber­gen said – it was the great­est mu­si­cal he’d ever seen.

“I said, ‘ It’s gonna win Tonys. It’s the great­est thing’. He said, ‘ You’ve gotta be kid­ding me. What’s wrong with you?’ But lo and be­hold, I was right.”

By the time the mu­si­cal came to Aus­tralia – af­ter Lon­don, Mel­bourne was the sec­ond city out­side of the US to stage the show – it had a rash of Tony awards and plenty of hype. How­ever, some cyn­i­cism re­mained. Aus­tralia’s Frankie, Ir­ish im­port Bobby Fox, re­calls be­ing asked why any­one in Aus­tralia would care about four guys from New Jersey?

Hav­ing seen the show per­formed over­seas, Fox had an in­kling of why we would care.

“I said, ‘ The same way as you watch West Wing or Break­ing Bad – it’s got noth­ing to do with them be­ing from Jersey; it’s four guys mak­ing some­thing of them­selves from noth­ing,” he said. “But the thing Jersey Boys had in its back pocket was the show. The show was mag­nif­i­cent. The show was an ab­so­lute blinder.”

The film rights were ac­quired in 2010. By 2012, Iron Man di­rec­tor Jon Favreau was pulling to­gether a cast. But a few months later, Warner Broth­ers hit the brakes – in­dus­try mur­murs sug­gested they were doubt­ful of its in­ter­na­tional ap­peal.

It took the sign­ing of Hol­ly­wood leg­end Clint East­wood as di­rec­tor to re­vive the movie.

“I had caught wind Clint was do­ing this tour, see­ing the pro­duc­tions around the coun­try,” Young said. “It was Sun­day mati­nee and I heard back­stage he was out in the au­di­ence – in fact, we knew be­cause the au­di­ence gave him a stand­ing ova­tion when they saw him.

“I didn’t have to fight to get the role at all – the di­rec­tor just saw me do it on a Broad­way stage.

“I met him briefly af­ter my per­for­mance and the next time I saw him was on the film set.”

It’s one thing to per­form for hun­dreds of people on stage ev­ery night. It must be an­other thing en­tirely to per­form for East­wood and his cam­era at close quar­ters. Yet Young claimed there were no nerves.

“I knew that he knew I had a com­mand of the role from Broad­way – I’ve done it more than a thou­sand times. And I knew he’s got decades of film ex­pe­ri­ence,” Young said.

“I just in­tu­itively de­cided it was go­ing to be a joy for him to usher some­one from stage through his first film­mak­ing process.”

East­wood’s ap­proach to the movie was to keep much of what made the stage show a hit, from the char­ac­ters talk­ing di­rectly to the au­di­ence to the live singing and the men play­ing the parts.

Valli ( Young), Gau­dio ( Erich Ber­gen) and bassist Nick Massi ( Michael Lomenda) had played those same roles on stage in the US and much of the sup­port­ing cast was also theatre talent.

Young ad­mit­ted he would not have been happy if any other Frankie had nabbed the film.

“I gotta tell ya, the prospect of that hap­pen­ing caused a lit­tle anx­i­ety in me be­cause I had orig­i­nated the role on Broad­way. I won a Tony award for it, I did the orig­i­nal cast record­ing that’s now all over the world … so it was a lit­tle bit un­com­fort­able think­ing the role on film, which would be sort of the per­ma­nent record, might be some­one else.

“I have to tell you, I’m so re­lieved it wasn’t.”


Now show­ing Vil­lage Cin­e­mas

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