Tony winner John Lloyd Young is straight up on gay roles
by Robert Sokol
Many a sissy boy has been encouraged to butch it up and walk like a man, but never was that exhortation more incongruous than when it was delivered in the trademark dog-whistle falsetto of The Four Seasons. Fronted by Frankie Valli, the group was one of the biggest-selling acts of the 1960s, until rock changed the music industry.
After a Grease-and-disco-oiled slide back into the 70s spotlight, Valli and his many Seasonal workers (he's the only original member still performing) rode the oldies tour circuit until Jersey Boys opened on Broadway in late 2005 and brought their sound to a new generation. The jukebox musical told their early story and won four Tony Awards, including one for Valli portrayer John Lloyd Young, making him the first performer ever to win the Best Actor in a Musical award for his Broadway debut.
Young makes his San Francisco debut this Sunday at the Herbst Theatre as part the 15th annual edition of the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation's Help Is on the Way concert gala, and he's excited. "I get to hang out with Tyne Daly backstage!" he enthuses. "What theatre actor wouldn't want to do that?"
John Lloyd, as he prefers, was born on the Fourth of July in Sacramento. "You know that no matter what's happening in your life on your birthday, there's still going to be a celebration!" he says. His Air Force father whisked the family east. The actor has only recently returned to the Golden State to make his home in Los Angeles and pursue a film and television career, though a return to Broadway is not out of the question. "I don't really care what the medium is if the role is good."
For the moment, the relocation is paying off. He's slated to guest on Fox's Glee in the fall, and just wrapped the title role in the indie comedy Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay! with Lainie Kazan, Bruce Vilanch, and Saul Rubinek. "We're doing private screenings right now, and audiences are responding really well."
The 34-year-old Young, who is straight, says he has read for many gay roles. "A lot of them I turn down flat-out because they are so stereotypical and, from my perspective, so offensive that I could not stand behind the project. I wouldn't want to be responsible for putting that out there. I would be ashamed," he says. "Actors have to take responsibility for the roles they choose. You can't just take any job that is offered, especially if you don't agree with the message of the material. I've run away – screaming, in some instances – from the depictions written into certain scripts, for both gay and straight characters."
In Oy Vey!, he is partnered with former Queer Eye star Jai Rodriguez, and has to fend of the advances of uber-vixen Carmen Electra. "A lot of actors don't even consider playing gay roles, so new actors like me get offered these scripts. I don't care if the role is gay or straight. I just want to play a character with dignity. I think you have to have a social conscience about it, especially if you want your work to mean something and not just be a way of making a living.
"Gay stereotypes are perpetuated in Hollywood in mean-spirited ways. It's like they have to buffoon-ize gay characters so that audiences can feel more comfortable with them. People can be comfortable with the flamboyant florist, but if he's just a normal person, 'one of us,' then that's more threatening. I'm really opposed to that. It's 2009. We should be able to see a person who just happens to be gay. There needs to be balance, so that people can realize not all people or all groups of people are the way they are assumed to be." Young thinks his new film achieves those goals. "It's why I chose to do it."
A handsome blend of Italian ancestry from his mother and "WASP all the way back to the settlers" on his father's side, Young jokes that he keeps "a stiff upper lip over some simmering passion below." Scheduled to join him on stage at the Herbst for There's No Business like Show Business are fellow Tony winner Tyne Daly, perennial grand diva Carole Cook, Shawn Ryan, Susan Anton, disco queen Jeanie Tracy, Wesla Whitfield, Davis Gaines, Joely Fisher, Maureen McVerry, comedy duo Baulpointpen, dancers Cate Caplan and Gary Franco, and the cast of Top Shelf's Motown Madness. A busy silent auction and underwriter reception precede the show, and a post-performance party with the cast is also available to underwriter ticket-holders.
Help Is on the Way 15: There's No Business like Show Business at the Herbst Theatre, Sun., Aug. 2, underwriter reception and auction 6 p.m., performance 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($75 performance only; underwriter $175 and up): (415) 273-1620 or www.helpisontheway.org.