Mid-century songs of love and longing from the masterful ‘John Lloyd Young: Broadway’s Jersey Boy’ at NYC’s 54 Below

Tony and Grammy winner John Lloyd Young, who originated the lead role of Frankie Valli in both the iconic Broadway musical Jersey Boys and the Warner Bros film adaptation directed by Clint Eastwood, has returned to NYC for a four-date engagement this week at 54 Below – “Broadway’s living room” and his “own cellar” away from home. Playing to a packed opening-night house of adoring fans who, understandably, follow him everywhere (I was seated at a table with Claudia from LA, who took the week off from work and flew in to attend all four shows), John Lloyd Young: Broadway’s Jersey Boy celebrated classics from the ‘50s and ‘60s, including a selection of songs from The Four Seasons and other mid-century music sensations, Broadway, and his 2012 debut album My Turn . . . (which was expanded with eight new tracks and re-released in 2014).

John Lloyd Young at 54 Below. Photo by Ray Costello.

As always, the supremely talented, irresistibly charming, and consummately professional Young brought his extraordinary voice and captivating stage presence to a set list of thirteen of his own familiar and lesser-known favorites and greatest hits of the era, interspersed with personal asides, behind-the-scenes stories that change each night (there were two about working with Eastwood on the Jersey Boys movie set at the performance I attended), and direct interactions with the appreciative audience.

The band (left to right): Mark McLean, Derek Nievergelt, Ron Abel, and Sean Harkness. Photo by Deb Miller.

Accompanied by a terrific four-piece band (Sean Harkness on guitar, Mark McLean on drums, Derek Nievergelt on bass guitar, and music director Ron Abel on piano, who were featured on an all-instrumental version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say”), JLY’s signature rich tenor, flawless falsetto, and exceptional breath control on the long notes were all there, as were his empathy for the romantic lyrics and the deeply felt emotions he registered in his passionate delivery, facial expressions, and body language, along with his obvious love of the music, performing, and the people he does it for, who responded in kind.

John Lloyd Young. Photo by Ray Costello.

Dressed in a shirt and suit, with dark glasses that he alternately wore and removed at different points in the show, Young sat on a stool for the slower tempo songs (like “Nevertheless,” first published in 1931, then recorded by The Mills Brothers and Frank Sinatra, among many others, in 1950) or moved around the stage for the more upbeat numbers (whether gleefully enacting The Four Seasons’ “Walk Like a Man” or embracing the arrangement of “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” to a bossa nova beat).

John Lloyd Young. Photo by Deb Miller.

Through it all he made direct eye contact with members of the audience, invited everyone to sing or to clap along to some of the songs, and completely involved his fans in the exceptionally engaging performance. Covering everything from Roy Orbison (“Only the Lonely”) to Paul McCartney (“Maybe I’m Amazed”) to Broadway (“I Have Dreamed” from The King and I and “Mean to Me” from Ain’t Misbehavin’”), in addition to the songs from Jersey Boys for which he is most known and acclaimed (“Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You;” “My Eyes Adored You”), JLY hit all the right notes, both musically and emotionally, and made it clear why he’s the phenomenal star he is on the concert stage.

John Lloyd Young. Photo by Ray Costello.

The evening ended with a rousing encore of three additional numbers (“Cara Mia,” “Working My Way Back to You,” and “Sherry”) that highlighted his superb voice and the sincere appreciation and camaraderie he feels for his fans, as he worked his way around the room and through the audience with the house lights up, following a fervent standing ovation from the crowd.

If you can’t make it to 54 Below in person, the closing performance on January 14, beginning at 7 pm, will also be livestreamed, so you can watch this outstanding cabaret concert at home in real time. JLY laughingly promised that “it’s gonna be so much better by Saturday!” I don’t know how you improve upon perfection, but if anyone can do it, John Lloyd Young can.

Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes, without intermission.

Photo by Alex Hoerner.

John Lloyd Young: Broadway’s Jersey Boy plays through Saturday, January 14, 2023, starting at 7 pm (doors open at 5:30), at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $78.50-155.50, including fees, plus a $25 food/beverage minimum per person), call (646) 476-3551, or go online. Masks are no longer required but are recommended. For tickets to the livestream on Saturday, January 14, 7 pm (priced at $28.50, including fees), click here.