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"High Notes in a Clutch of Familiar Melodies"
by Stephen Holden
When does a karaoke performance transcend itself? Or a wedding band’s faithful re-creation of an oldie but goody surpass an original recording whose grooves were etched in memory when you were a lonely teenager baying at the moon? These questions roiled in my head while watching the opening-night performance of John Lloyd Young’s show “My Turn,” at the Café Carlyle.
Mr. Young, who has the look and attitude of a sensitive slick-haired late-1950s street kid (he is 37), achieved Broadway glory playing Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys.” He has a disciplined one-in-a-million high tenor shading into falsetto that he can direct through the stratosphere with a precision that few male singers deploy with any comfort. Listening to him sing the 1969 Eddie Holman hit, “Hey There Lonely Girl,” conjured memories of very late nights spent leaning against a jukebox four decades ago in a smoke-filled bar hearing a cry that distilled the post-adolescent pining that brought me there.
That kind of extreme romanticism and the male vulnerability it signifies have all but disappeared from pop. If any single voice can bring back a vocal sound that is synonymous with ’50s and ’60s nostalgia, it may be Mr. Young’s. But how do you contemporize that keening whine? And is this musical throwback who Mr. Young really is?
His show concentrates on the period roughly from 1955 to 1972 and includes a selection of the era’s primal ballads sung with a seven-piece band (led by Tommy Faragher) whose arrangements loosely parallel those of the original recordings. Except for the Frankie Valli hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” the show steers away from “Jersey Boys’” songs.
Several numbers, including the Platters’ “Only You” and Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Hurt So Bad,” hit the emotional bull’s-eye. Those that missed, like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” at least reached the outer circles of the target.
These are sounds so deeply rooted in the consciousness of those who grew up with them that every nuance of the original recordings is grafted into their synapses. The challenge faced by Mr. Young is how to reinvent high-altitude crooning as brilliantly as the Bee Gees did for “Saturday Night Fever,” and come out from under the past.
“My Turn” continues through Feb. 23 at the Café
Carlyle, at the Carlyle Hotel, 35 East 76th Street, Manhattan; (212)