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BWW Review: John Lloyd Young Makes Kennedy Center Solo Cabaret Debut

It's not very often - in advance of one of the Kennedy Center's offerings in the Barbara Cook Spotlight Series - that one can feel a bursting level of excitement outside the intimate Terrace Theatre. Upon entering the lobby area, one immediately notices that he or she is surrounded by highly excited women of a certain age - some grasping a signed glossy 8 x 10 photo of the artist they just purchased at a small table. Yes, John Lloyd Young of JERSEY BOYS fame has descended upon the Kennedy Center.

One of the great things about this cabaret series is that local audiences have the opportunity to hear artists that aren't quite yet household names even among those that frequent the theatre - Alexandra Silber, for example (she gave my favorite performance in the series to date) - as well as artists that are more established names in musical theatre. These, for example, might include the likes of Randy Graff last month, but also artists like Liz Callaway, Andrea McArdle, and Terri White. There's another category, too. This would be those artists that had one or two notable musical theatre credits early on in their careers, but have gone on to become more recognizable to the public at large as a result of numerous appearances on television, in film, and in concerts. John Lloyd Young falls into this category.

Mr. Young, of course, made his Broadway debut in JERSEY BOYS and originated the role of Frankie Valli. This portrayal of the music legend brought him a host of theatrical accolades - not least of which was the Tony Award - and he's returned to the role several times, including on Broadway, on tour, and in the recent feature film version. Making his solo debut at the Kennedy Center, he performed a myriad of songs that one might expect from a young talent who sang so many classic songs in the show for which he is best known. Drawing mainly from the catalogue of famous - and maybe not so famous - pop songs from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, he explored the ups and downs of romantic relationships through song.

While at times the song selections might have come off as a bit saccharine, or even schmaltzy to a certain segment of the population (myself included), there's no denying the prodigious talent has a knack for interpreting songs from a certain era, and an extraordinary vocal gift that allows those ubiquitous melodies to soar to new heights.

As expected, he performed several tunes made famous by the Four Seasons ("Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" and "Sherry," which became a bit of singalong). These selections no doubt pleased those who know him best from the stage musical and film. Technically, Mr. Young has one of those one-of-a-kind voices and that special voice is a perfect fit for both of these songs as well as many others he performed. Among the other vocal highlights were several numbers that were featured on his 2014 solo album, My Turn. Some of my favorites included "Ebb Tide" and "Hey There, Lonely Girl" - the latter of which really allowed him to show off his impressive falsetto - because they were not only sung impeccably, but his performance approach did not teeter on the brink of lounge singer territory as it did in some of the other numbers ("My Prayer" and "Only You" are two examples).

Numbers like "Show and Tell" demonstrated he can take on a bit of a rocker vibe. His performance of Bacharach and David's "A House Is Not a Home" was also significant. While it was the only selection - beyond the aforementioned songs featured in JERSEY BOYS - that had a musical theatre connection (it was added to the 2010 Broadway revival of PROMISES, PROMISES and sung by Kristin Chenoweth), it was also memorable because of the more or less unique - or at least different - arrangement employed. While Mr. Young's encore performance of this selection came off as slightly self-indulgent, it did highlight his musicality.

The concert wasn't all about performing the familiar, however. He also included a song from a 1970s Chinese movie he really liked - and performed it in the original Mandarin, of all things - as well as a song he co-wrote with his Grammy-nominated music director Tommy Faragher. While "Alone Together" is mostly lacking in lyrical nuance, I certainly appreciated the way in which Mr. Young emotionally connected with the song that clearly means a lot to him. His performance of this number was less about putting on a flashy, polished show, and more about sharing a personal thought.

While a few more 'stripped-down,' diverse, and/or intimate musical moments would have been nice - and a times the relentless thanking of his fans and supporters got a bit tedious (although it's admirable he's appreciative) - no matter how you slice it, he's a gifted vocalist. Joined by Faragher on keys and three local musicians on guitar, bass, and percussion, he shared his gift with his adoring fans in the way that they likely expect.

Running Time: Nearly two hours with no intermission.

John Lloyd Young performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 20, 2015. Next up in the Barbara Cook Spotlight Series is Frances Ruffelle on March 25, 2016. For further information, see the Kennedy Center website.

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From This Author Jennifer Perry