John Lloyd Young
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
John Lloyd Young
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
John Lloyd Young came to most theatergoers' attention with his Tony Award-winning portrayal of pop singer Frankie Valli in the hit show Jersey Boys, but he's an actor of great range. On August 8, he takes on the role of Marius in a star-studded concert version of Les Miserables at the Hollywood Bowl, alongside Brian Stokes Mitchell, J. Mark McVey, Lea Michele, and Ruth Williamson.TheaterMania spoke with Young before that show's 10-day rehearsal period about this exciting project and his plans for the future.

THEATERMANIA: How well do you know Les Miserables?
JLY: I've been looking at the music again, but it feels like a review of something I fell asleep to when I was 13 years old. I was always interested in Broadway, as an aspirant to be an actor, and cast albums were the only artifact of live theater that were available to me. So I used to listen to Les Miz and Phantom all the time when I was that age. And the first production of the show I saw was in Montreal, directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, who's directing our concert, which was in English with French supertitles.

TM Did you always want to play Marius?
JLY: My entire life I have gravitated to doing Marius. When I first got to New York, I had some callbacks to play him on tour, and it was one of my first near-misses. And when this last Broadway revival happened, I felt like I was watching a college production because I had so many friends in the cast, but I had just done Jersey Boys and felt like I would just have to let this dream go to bed. But when I was asked to do this concert, I was able to rekindle my enthusiasm immediately. It's such a sweeping, romantic role; he's sensitive and brave at the same time. And he has that one great song, 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.' If you know me personally, you know those kind of heart-wrenching songs speak to me. I love Fado from Portugal, because it's described like a knife twisting in your chest. Personally, I would like to do a concert of only ballads, except I'd be afraid of the audience falling asleep.

TM: So did the role just come to you without an audition or anything?
JLY: No. Richard hadn't been thinking of me doing the show, but once the idea was presented to him, he was intrigued with it. I understand that it was an out-of-left-field idea if you only knew me from Jersey Boys, because you might not have thought I could do this sort of legit singing. But the truth is I learned to sing like Frankie Valli just for that show and now there are lots of people who think that's only what I can do. I'm glad it was convincing. In any case, I did a work session with Richard and music director Kevin Stites to show them I was right for Marius, and now I am so excited to return to a way of singing in which I'm comfortable.

TM: Are you looking forward to working with this cast and with the L.A. Philharmonic?
JLY: I'm really excited to work with Lea Michele. I am a big fan of hers, especially because of Spring Awakening. I know Stokes from our work with Actor's Fund and Jennifer Naimo, who's in the show, was part of Jersey Boys, so that will be a nice reunion. And to be singing this score in front of one of the best orchestras in the world will be like flying. Even in college, I was so excited to sit down for a sitzprobe when we did Sweeney Todd with the Brown University orchestra.

J. Robert Spencer and John Lloyd Young
in Jersey Boys
(© Joan Marcus)
J. Robert Spencer and John Lloyd Young
in Jersey Boys
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: How do you feel about spending some time in Los Angeles?
JLY: I've had a lot of short visits in LA over the years, but this time I plan to linger a little longer. I do like it. I actually wanted to come out here to do the national tour of Jersey Boys; in the golden age of musicals, stars went out with the national tour and went around the country. But it just didn't work out. You know, I would've followed the show around the world if they asked me. The other thing is that I grew up as a military kid, so I am used to going wherever the work is. If the next big job is out here, fine, but if it's Off-Broadway or Chicago, that's cool too.

TM: Speaking of the next thing, I know you just did a reading of this musical Myth at the Eugene O'Neill Center. How did that go?
JLY: John Mercurio is a really committed composer. I didn't see a script until two days before rehearsals, and it turned out to be a perfectly assembled group, and I'd love to continue with them and with the piece, maybe even bring it to New York for a reading. The show is inspired by Joseph Campbell, and it's about how classic myths endure and how they carry into current lives. I played this rock star who is sick of the bullshit of his life -- he's sort of a modern-day Orpheus -- and while the music has a very classical feel in terms of orchestration, the singing was more contemporary. Also what I loved being at the O'Neill is that it was so writer-centered, which takes a lot of pressure off the actors. Our job was really to serve the writers, and I found it relaxing to help build something. I almost felt like a model working with a designer to see how his clothes fit.

TM: How are you finding your career options now that you're a Tony Award winner?
JLY: I think I'm realizing that winning a Tony means you did one thing really well; it doesn't mean that new things come to you without work or effort. Because of the success of Jersey Boys, there are some things I would avoid doing -- like any Mafia-themed thing or a show where I play a falsetto-singer -- unless I'd felt it was too stupid to not do it. I do think I need to reeducate some people that I am an actor and not Frankie Valli, but I think anyone who goes through something as big as Jersey Boys has to go through this. I admit it's a high-class problem.

TM: One of the things you've told me you loved about Jersey Boys is that it wasn't a typical song-and-dance musical.
JLY: Yes, luckily for me, musicals are becoming darker and more complex. For example, I loved Adding Machine, and would go to the ends of earth to work with Josh Schmidt, and I really admire Tom Kitt. In my work, I want to be able to really go deep into characters, as well as sing.

TM: Doesn't that lead us back to Sondheim?
JLY: I actually did six of his shows in college. In fact, my friends from college were so used to hearing me with that kind of voice that they didn't think I could sing Jersey Boys. Of course, I did all these roles I was too young for, like Frederick in A Little Night Music. And I think I'm finally leaving the Antony track. The biggest problem for me is that I haven't aged into the Sondheim roles I most want to do. But I should be able to do Bobby in Company in a few years. That's probably the best role for me in the immediate future.