John Lloyd Young Showcases Powerful Vocals at Cafe Carlyle: Concert Review

© Michael Wilhoite
This beautifully sung evening of classic pop songs from the '50s and '60s is a potent dose of musical nostalgia.

The star of Broadway's "Jersey Boys" and its upcoming film delivered a 75-minute set filled with classics during a new cabaret show.

Those with long memories will fondly recall the K-Tel greatest hits packages that were once so ubiquitously advertised on late night television. It was hard not to think of them while watching John Lloyd Young’s new show at NYC’s tony Café Carlyle. This evening filled with classic pop songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s was an exercise in musical nostalgia that wouldn’t have felt out of place on an oldies radio station.

The 38-year-old performer shot to prominence with his starring role as Frankie Valli in the hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys, a role for which he won the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics and Theatre World Awards and is reprising in Clint Eastwood’s upcoming film version. Although the evening made only a single nod to that credit in the form of the opening number, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” it largely dwelt on songs from the same era.

As he demonstrated in his Broadway outing, the boyish Young possesses a dazzling falsetto that well matches Valli’s in his prime. Combined with a powerful tenor and effortlessly smooth crooning ability, it’s a formidable vocal instrument that only occasionally showed signs of strain on opening night.

Accompanied by a five-piece band led by his musical director Tommy Faragher, Young delivered a 75-minute set featuring such classics of the era as “In the Still of the Night,” “Only You,” “You Belong to Me,” “Since I Fell for You, “Unchained Melody” and “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me.” With the arrangements hewing closely to the originals, sometimes a bit too slavishly, the singer infused the love songs with an unabashed emotional urgency and vulnerability. The songs were mostly very familiar, save for the notable exceptions of Randy Newman’s little-known “Just One Smile” and “Say No More,” a song recorded by Roy Orbison that was never officially released.

He unveiled his formidable falsetto only sparingly, but to great effect on such numbers as Eddie Holman’s 1970 hit “Hey There Lonely Girl” and Smokey Robinson’s classic “Who’s Loving You.” He infused Little Anthony and the Imperials’ "Hurt So Bad” with a quivering anguish, while dipping into deeply soulful territory with such numbers as “Show and Tell.”

Young’s onstage patter could use some improvement, concentrating far too much on his recent career highlights and his deeply close relationship with his manager who was in attendance. He made frequent, self-serving references to the fans who would be attending his show every night for the course of its two-week run. And his attempt to replicate the conditions in which he recorded his recent album by donning a pair of dark shades for several numbers mainly smacked of pretension.

Still, there’s no denying that his heartthrob vocals, spotlighted on such classics as “Unchained Melody,” have a powerful effect on his largely female fan base. Once he finds more original material that would equally spotlight his versatile instrument, he may well someday elevate to pop stardom.

Set list:

Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You

My Prayer

In the Still of the Night

Only You

You Belong to Me

Ebb Tide

Hurt So Bad

Since I Fell for You

Hey There Lonely Girl

Just One Smile

Show and Tell

Unchained Melody

Say No More

Who’s Loving You

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me

A House is Not a Home