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'Jersey Boys' welcomes back its prodigal son

The Associated Press, Wednesday, August 1, 2012, 4:02am (PDT)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Who says you can't go home again? Not John Lloyd Young, who left Broadway's "Jersey Boys" five years ago and is now spending the summer back in his old role. He even got the same dressing room.

"How many people in life get to go back and reclaim their past and relive it in almost exactly the same way and enjoy it all over again?" asks Young.

The show and theater may be the same, but it's a different Young who again slips into the shoes of Frankie Valli in the behind-the-music musical about the doo-wop group The Four Seasons.

Young left the show in 2007, a newly minted Tony Award winner whose lead vocals also propelled the cast album to a Grammy win. He moved to Los Angeles to try his hand at film and TV, but found frustration. So he did different things: He became a kung fu expert. He helped charities. He got a tattoo. Most important, he fell in love with making modern art.

"A lot of things changed radically right after I left the show," he says. "I had certain expectations that didn't happen or at least didn't happen the way I expected. So I adapted."

Michael David, president of the producing partnership Dodger Properties, happily welcomed Young back to "Jersey Boys" and knows how rare it is for a Tony-winning leading man to return to the show that launched his fame.

"It's great to observe his inarguable talents and work ethic inhabit Frankie Valli again onstage," David says. "For everybody in the show, it brings up their game to have him there."

Young, a Brown University graduate, clearly has a thirsty mind, able to speak thoughtfully on a vast range of topics, from the Arab Spring to Fran Lebowitz. He's a searcher — for meaning and meaningfulness.

How many Broadway actors have a notecard on their mirror with a quote from the Greek philosopher Epictetus?: "First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do."

Young's life completely changed after winning the Tony. The year before he had been a struggling actor and an usher, handing out Playbills at the musical "42nd Street." Now he was toast of the town. That actually closed some doors.

He recalls being up for an Anton Chekhov play downtown in a small off-Broadway theater after "Jersey Boys" and realizing it would be a nightmare if he landed a part in it.

"You have a whole fan base that's going to come and overrun the theater and isn't going to appreciate that you're playing Konstantin in `The Seagull,'" he says. "You can't go do certain experimental things anonymously anymore. It sort of forced me to challenge myself in a new arena."

So he went West, where he did some TV — he was the first-ever guest star on "Glee" — as well as starring in the film "Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay!" which never got released. "Maybe not everything is meant to come out," he jokes.

Young admits it was hard to find good jobs in Los Angeles, especially like the role of Valli, the emotional core of "Jersey Boys" who gets to sing such hits as "Sherry," "Walk Like a Man" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You."

"It's really hard to find really engaging, smart material that also has appeal to a lot of people. The lowest common denominator and shamelessness is center stage in way too many cases," he says.

To keep his spirits up, he got the word "faith" tattooed on his inner left arm. Faith in? "In the future. I think we could all use a little of that right now," he says.

Art became a refuge for Young, who has decorated his dressing room at the August Wilson Theatre with photos of the works he admires by contemporary artists Mary Heilmann, Michael Carini, Richard Roth and Yayoi Kusama.

Young's own mixed-media conceptual art is inspired by Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. He specialized in what has been described as Pop Kitsch — adorning iconic food packages such as a Spam can or a Heinz ketchup bottle with rhinestone jewels.

He says it took a few years to build up a body of artwork, and even though he had no expectations of it ever selling, it has. One of his pieces hangs at Beverly Hills' famed restaurant Spago.

He once supported himself with his acting and singing. Now he has with his art. He has now succeeded in two careers. "Whatever role I find next, I'm a deeper person with more facets," he says.

Young began thinking it might be time to return to music and was working on his debut CD when he was asked to return to "Jersey Boys." The album and stage show turned out to dovetail beautifully: The CD is a collection of songs from the Frankie Valli era that weren't sung by the Four Seasons.

"We thought a really good way to establish my own musical identity would be to sing familiar songs that other people were familiar for singing but with my voice," he says.

The album, titled "My Turn," has seven songs, including "In the Still of the Night," "Who's Loving You" and "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me." Young decided to stick with arrangements that are close to the originals and the CD has a live vibe.

As proof that Young is enjoying his return to "Jersey Boys," he's playing all eight shows each week until he leaves Sept. 30. When he was last on Broadway, an understudy sang the role of Valli twice a week to protect Young's falsetto. Not this time.

"It was almost more selfish for me. I wanted to see the audience every show. I didn't want them to see someone else if I was just here for a short time," he says.

Theatergoers will also see a richer, deeper Frankie Valli, thanks to Young's growth over the last few years. He says he now connects more with Valli's Act 2 struggle to keep the music flowing.

"I understand now more than I ever did the first time around how rare and special it is when your talent and your activities overlap perfectly," he says. "It's great to go back and relive and revisit something that now you more deeply and profoundly understand."

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Online:

http://www.johnlloydyoung.com

http://www.jerseyboysbroadway.com

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Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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