Singing Young’s praises
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